What Is Love?

Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 15:9-17

I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another (15:17)

Love, love, love. All you need is love. Warm fuzzies! What is this longing in our hearts for togetherness? Is it not the sweetest flower? Love!

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (15:12)

Um. As I have loved you?

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (15:13).


John reminds us that the kind of love Christians are called to embody takes a particular, cruciform shape.

Robin Maas offers insight, “Few, if any of us, will be called to martyrdom; but all of us are called to a series of little deaths in the form of invitations to restrain or deny self….The sending of God by God was the sending of Love – a crucified Love willing to lay down its life for friends and enemies alike. Your mission and mine – which we can only perform insofar as we are in communion with God and with one another – is to submit, out of love for one another, to countless, daily ‘little deaths’ until we have yielded every least and last remnant of self to the purpose of Christ.” (Crucified Love, 98, 121).

I offer two examples of life-giving “little deaths” and invite you to find and celebrate the same in your congregation, community. Often they are equally mundane and brilliant, at times easy to miss.


My mom started a backpack program 8 years ago with an elementary school down the road from my parents’ church that has morphed into a partnership. Among many other ways that they support the school’s students and teachers, congregation members pack food every week for more than 100 children who may not otherwise have anything to eat during the weekend.

This story was relayed by the mother of a child who receives a weekly backpack.

“This mom watched from her window as her child and his friend got off of the school bus one Friday afternoon. Her son took his food bag out of his backpack and started unpacking some food at the bus stop. This little one shared half of what he had with his friend. When his mom asked him about what she saw, he told her that his friend needed some extra food, too.

Word got back to the school counselor. We sent extra food in this little one’s bag, until we could get the new child enrolled in the program. We added a note telling him how proud we were of him and that we would send extra food for him to share with his buddy until he could get his own bag of food on Fridays.”

That weekly commitment – shopping, packing, delivering – is a small death to self that makes possible other acts of self-giving and generosity.


In 2009, I had the privilege of meeting Nora Kort, who runs the Arab Orthodox Society in Jerusalem. A Palestinian Christian whose family has been Christian “since the Pentecost,” Nora started an embroidery project in 1989 with five women and $3,500.

Over the years she has seen the number of unemployed Palestinian men skyrocket, and an increasing number are in hiding, because they fear interrogation. The responsibility to provide for their families has fallen to many women. To support their families, women embroider stoles, scarves and other clothing items, and the Arab Orthodox Society sells them at a fair price in the Old City of Jerusalem.

At the time, the embroidery project employed and provided income for the families of 750 women living the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. These women represent the Muslim faith and all 16 Christian denominations in the Holy Land. The week we met with Nora, she told us that she had just met with a group of 45 Jewish women interested in getting involved.

Nora’s own “little death” facilitates life for families who may otherwise be left at loose ends.

Cross-shaped love is not the negation of self to no further end; Jesus’ story didn’t stop with the tomb. Rooted in God’s love for the world, it bears the fruit of justice, joy and reconciliation. It creates space for life where it seems that there is none, making room for other people to flourish. It nurtures friendships and fosters the ability to trust in God’s abundance, grace, provision in the face of scarcity, death. It includes the excluded, invites in the ostracized, meets the needs of the hungry, the isolated, the oppressed.

Crucified love is not the warm fuzzies. Rather, it ultimately anticipates that our own bodies – individually and collectively as the church, the body of Christ – are a means by which God provides for the world if we’re open to and rest in the leading of the Spirit.

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