To love someone to the end is to do whatever you must for their good, their well-being, their health, their safety, their care. It means sacrificing your ideas of what is silly, what is right, what is helpful.
The ‘someone’ we are to love to the end is not the person we choose, or the person we wish to care about, or the person we think is worth the effort. The ‘someone’ is ‘anyone.’ And every person—the stranger, the ignorable, the person we can’t stand, and the person whose views we find disagreeable, even repulsive.
This is not negotiable. Neither is the truth that we are to sacrifice our best, our stuff, even our life for their benefit.
This is not negotiable, because it was not negotiable for Our Lord Jesus Christ. The ‘someone’ He loved to the end was each person—including weak-willed Peter, and conniving Judas, and the abusive soldiers, and the people who clamored for His death. He put His life on the line for each and every one so that they might have a chance at repentance, amendment, and transformation.
If we are authentic about following in the footsteps of Christ; if we are real about not just identifying as Christian, but being ‘Christian’ in life and deed; if that’s our ultimate goal, and not just a nice idea: then sacrificial loving for whomever is not negotiable.
Perhaps this pestilence has helped both to enliven what it means to sacrifice, and truly to see the other for whom we sacrifice. And if it has, then by this experience we are deepening our participation in Christ Jesus when He “knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father” and then determined, with stubborn determination, to love all unto the end.
Our Lord’s love to the end is certainly realized in His sacrifice on the cross. It’s the price He pays to ransom and redeem us. St Peter tells us that “not with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” we are redeemed from aimless conduct, from living a life that doesn’t lead upward or forward, but sideways and inward.
Yet Jesus’ sacrifice is more than just His death on the cross. He lays down His life. Which means that He lays out for us His flesh and blood to be the food that is actually able to see us through death and the fear of death. The bread changed into His flesh and the wine changed into His blood—that’s His greatest gift for us. And it’s how He loves us not just with the end of His life, or even to the end of our life—but, more so, to the goal and purpose of life and living.
Let’s try that again. The Eucharist feeds the ability to set aside all fear of another, all fear of how this will end, and all fear of what death can do. And, in that way, the Eucharist effects a transformation that is more than changed behavior. It can renovate how we see purpose, how we see others, and how we approach the scary and the frightening.
So the Eucharist is not about uplifting us spiritually, or connecting us symbolically. The Eucharist is aimed at helping us get past our fears, and more deeply into the Christ Jesus who has already undone the things that undo us; who has already overwhelmed the things that overwhelm; who has already defeated the fears that paralyze.
Christ’s holy body and blood take us past these things, fueling our desire to be in our living what we hope for in our minds.
Perhaps this pandemic has had the strange benefit of helping us see how much of our life in God depends on the Holy Eucharist. How much our life as Christians is both supporting each other, and more so living from Christ’s strength.
I know that, for most, it is truly hard being deprived of Holy Communion. It feels not good, even unfair. Yet I pray that it has increased our hunger and thirst for Our Lord’s Body and Blood. That this deprivation has helped us realize how much we actually should rely, not just on each other, but on Our Lord. And that we rely on Jesus, not as an idea of hope or a comfortable part of our life, but that we rely on His flesh and blood to move us away from a life that just goes along, to a live that truly lives for the end.
Too often, we don’t see the importance, the help, the necessity, the benefit until we are deprived. And sometimes we don’t really get the sacrifice, the ‘loving us to the end,’ until our routine is shaken.
We will gather again. The deprivation will end. Our Lord will see to that, in His time and for His purpose. And perhaps He has permitted, or even arranged this difficult season, so that we might long for each other by yearning for His sacrifice by which He continues to love us through now to the end.