“What’s love got to do with it?” Tina Turner sang that question in the 1980s. The peculiar faith of Christians offers an answer: everything.
Christianity began, not with an institution, or a doctrine, or a text, but with table fellowship. The many meals Jesus shared equally with the socially powerful and the least likely, the stories he told of wedding banquets and feasts, the tender washing of feet and the risky, self-offering of bodily vulnerability – all this and more set the Table around which the earliest Christians gathered. In short, love set the Table, and it turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6).
Since then, texts, doctrines, and institutions have (sometimes well and sometimes poorly) tried to pass on that social witness to radical love, and for a singular reason: Love changes everything.
Landmark legislation and milestone judicial rulings can change many things (from civil rights to environmental protections). Strategy sessions and protest rallies can change the course of social policies and labor practices. All of these make a difference for a better world but they can’t give what each of us truly wants and what the world really needs: Love.
The Apostle Paul apparently agreed. To the first century Christians in Corinth he wrote:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
More than most people today seem to realize, the history of Christian reflection and practice simmers with love’s peculiar, life-changing energy.
“Love bade me welcome,” wrote the Anglican poet George Herbert in the 17th century, just as Julian of Norwich, writing two centuries earlier, insisted that “Love was our Lord’s meaning…and in this love our life is everlasting.” Maximus the Confessor, writing still earlier, in the seventh century, went so far as to name that divine love “Eros.” If Eros is love, he wrote, then that love which unifies all things is God.
Encountering Love, receiving it, and bearing world-changing witness to it defines the essence of Christianity’s peculiar faith. And I too often and rather quickly forget this.
So tonight I join millions of Christians around the world and return to the Table of Love. Today is Maundy Thursday, the day to remember especially the final meal Jesus shared with his closest friends and the mandate (from which we get the word “Maundy”) he issued at that Table: Love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34).
I go to that Table not first because I need forgiveness (though I certainly do), or because of religious obligation (though it is that). I go because Love draws me there.
I may not fully believe it and I might go haltingly. I will likely go worrying that I’m not quite ready or that my thoughts aren’t focused clearly enough or that I myself am not nearly loving enough to receive love. Nonetheless, Love draws me.
A wise colleague once noted that “love changes us so that we can change the world.” What’s love got to do with it? Everything.