In the nineteenth century, William Morris, the Pre-Raphaelite designer and writer, published a poem entitled ‘Love is Enough’. The literary editor of the London Times is said to have reviewed it succinctly with the following lines: “Mr. Morris of Kelmscott Manor, Hammersmith, has presented us with a popular sentiment in the poem ‘Love is Enough’. It isn’t.”
On the twentieth anniversary of its broadcast, a BBC documentary crew interviewed over thirty people who had been involved with The Beatles world wide telecast in 1969 of the song, ‘All You Need Is Love’. They were asked if they still believed it. Not one of those questioned were willing to respond with a simple “yes”. In fact, the qualifications of the respondents were a remarkable testimony to the process of growing older. It was, “All you need is love… and common sense”; or, love and political power” ; or, “love and environmental consciousness…” The list went on almost ad inifinitum and, certainly ad nauseum. Truly, the years have taken their toll. Maybe Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead summed it up best when he said, “It’s hard to believe it any more… I mean, after all, The Beatles said ‘all you need is love’, then they broke up… and spent the next ten years suing each other.”
Yet, in almost every Anglican Eucharist around the world, one hears the very familiar words of Jesus that seem to tell us that love is enough, that it really is all that we need.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Yet, have we ever considered the fact that what we are commanded to do by Christ is patently impossible?
Permit me to illustrate. Many years ago, as a new and relatively naive believer, I was invited by a friend to attend a church service. Now, this was not a lovely neo-Gothic Anglican church with a choir. Instead, it was an evangelical, charismatic congregation which occupied a small storefront. The pastor of the congregation was attired in a mint green polyester leisure suit. The white patent leather shoes and belt completed the ensemble. I think you get the picture. Half way through the service came the time for the offering. Having spent much time in fervent and ecstatic prayer, the pastor announced to the assembly that God had spoken to him and told him that each person in the congregation was to give all the money which they had on them for the offering. Although a bit skeptical, I was, as I said, somewhat naive. If God had told him, who was I to say no? I emptied the contents of my wallet into the plate as it passed. Then came the sermon. It was actually rather good. At its conclusion, the pastor announced that those who wanted a cassette tape of the sermon could purchase it for five dollars at the rear of the hall after the last hymn. I was confused. If God wanted me to give all my money in the offering, where was I supposed to get the money to buy the tape?
We face the same dilemma with the command of Our Lord. If I love God with everything – with my mind, my soul, my heart and my strength – what is left with which I might love my neighbor as myself? If I give God all that I am, what remains for anyone else? Where do I find the love to do what I have been told to do?
In this, as in so many matters, we are not the first ones to ask the question. In fact, the answer has been written out for our instruction. In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, there is a section simply entitled A Catechism. Some confirmands in the past had to memorize portions of this simple set of questions and answers. In that part of the catechism which deals with this command of Christ we read these words: “My good child, know this; thou are not able to do these things of thyself nor to walk in the commandments of God, and to serve him, without his special grace; which thou must learn at all times to call for by diligent prayer.” You see, we can’t summon up this extraordinary love within ourselves. It has to come from another source.
The source is God. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us…” To grasp hold of the meaning of this love we must begin not with a mystical experience manufactured from within, or even with our love for God as our creator. We must begin at the real beginning, with love as the essence of the Holy Trinity. St. Augustine realized this when he wrote on the verse “God is love”, for here is God the Father as the Lover, his only begotten Son as the beloved, and the Holy Spirit as the very bond of love itself. This primal Trinitarian love is offered as a gift – THE GIFT.
You see, in God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only an abundance that freely desires to give. The contention of St. Anselm that God was under no necessity to create the universe is not a piece of dry scholastic speculation. It is essential. Without it we can hardly avoid the idea of what one might call a “managerial God” – a distant being whose function or nature is to run the world, like some celestial Swiss hotelier. Yet, to be the sovereign of all creation is no great matter to God. He is sovereign of greater realms than we might ever imagine. We might keep before our eyes the vision of Dame Julian of Norwich in which God holds in his hand a little object like a hazelnut, and that nut was ‘all that is made”.
God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures for no other reason than that he might love them and bring them to himself. In eternity past, at the dawn of creation, he brings them into being, already seeing the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the hands and feet, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body rises and falls upon the cross bar. He loves us into creation, knowing full well that we will place the object of his greatest love, his beloved Son, upon that crooked tree. As C.S. Lewis has written, “This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.” This is the source and spring of all that we might wish to call love, whether for God or neighbor.
So, perhaps William Morris was right, and the literary editor of the London Times was wrong. Love is enough. Yet, “herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loves us…”