On the second Sunday of Lent we heard Jesus’ exchange with Nicodemus. The teacher of Israel was baffled by Jesus’ declaration that no one enters the kingdom of God — no one comes into the sovereign rule of God — without being born anew of water and the Spirit (John 3). Now, on this third Sunday of Easter, we hear Peter’s words: Christians have been born anew and this includes purification and obedience; and moreover, rebirth leads one to the world-defying mark of the Christian, namely, mutual love from the deepest recesses of the heart.
This indeed is Christ’s great mandatum novum, the new commandment that we love one another. The world will know us, Jesus says, by this: that we love one another. These themes — the Kingdom, rebirth in the Spirit, and radical, sacrificial love for one another — come increasingly into view now in the season of Easter. The confusion of Nicodemus is resolved as the implications of the resurrection spill out into our lives. This new kingdom is one of love, not affection or fondness; not pity, sympathy, or empathy; not lust or physical attraction; not tacit affirmation. It is not simply being nice. These are all stand-ins for love. They are cheap knockoffs, imposters. Real love goes to the cross, pours itself out, dies. And in the resurrection love is all the purer, just as the resurrected Jesus is brilliant to our often dim eyes.
There is something cyclic about this love that is both cause and fruit. On the one hand, love is at the root of the resurrection: God’s love for his creation drove Christ to the cross. But on the other hand, love is the fruit of the resurrection (the nature of the new birth). What can we make of this paradox, that love is both cause and effect? Is it a communication of attributes?
The great 16th-century Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross wrote about this wounding and healing that the Christian experiences in the new birth, following his Lord both to the cross and to Easter day. John writes in The Living Flame of Love: “the divine burn of love heals the wound that love has caused, and by each application renders it greater. The healing that love brings is to wound again what was wounded before, until the soul melts away in the fire of love. So when the soul shall become wholly one wound of love it will then be transformed in love, wounded with love. For herein he who is most wounded is the most healthy, and he who is all wound is all health …. The Holy Spirit inflicted the wound that he might soothe it, and as his will and desire to soothe it are great, great will be the wound that he will inflict, in order that the soul he has wounded may be greatly comforted” (Stanza 2).
Here is that bit about purification and obedience that Peter mentions! The new birth is a continual process of commitment and recommitment, of yearning for the kingdom that is coming even now, which means welcoming the wounds of Jesus Christ that transform and bear fruit in love.
Look It Up
What does it mean to be born anew?
Think About It
Read 1 Peter 1:23.