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Keep my commandments: Sermon for Easter VI

If you love me you will keep my commandments.

This is one of Jesus’ sayings that at first we don’t think about very carefully. Perhaps it’s because whenever we hear the word ‘love’ we get all sentimental and weak at the knees. Or it’s because we all identify ourselves as friends of the Lord - we can almost imagine ourselves standing in front of Him saying ‘yes, of course, I love you and, of course, I will keep your commandments!’

But in our Gospel there is a great challenge. If you love me you will keep my commandments. And in our lives there is that inconvenient fact that we often get it wrong,

Does that mean that when I fail to follow God’s commandments I don’t love Him? Well, yes, in that moment, whether it be great or small, I’m not loving the Lord as I should and I’m putting someone or something before Him - usually myself or perhaps a desire for pleasure or comfort or power.

And then when I do follow His commandments, does it necessarily mean I love the Lord in the best possible way? The problem is we don’t always do good for the best motives. Why do I follow the commandments? Why am I tuning into Mass on Sunday, when I could just be watching another boxset or wasting time on google? Why do I help my neighbour? Is it purely out of love of God? Or are there other factors involved - fear of what others might think, fear of getting into trouble, fear of damnation. We might do good things unthinkingly, out of habit, without any spiritual motive, coasting along the road to perfection. We might even follow the commandments to look good, to puff ourselves up with pride. This is something Jesus often condemns the Pharisees for and we all know self-righteous people today who may indeed tick all the boxes of religious observance...but do it for the wrong reasons in the wrong way.

If you love me you will keep my commandments. These words contain a great challenge. Loving God is not just an emotional, sentimental response; it implies a decision, a choice, and involves continually changing our lives, getting rid of all the dirt and the dry wood, overcoming bad habits, pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone. Faith is not just about words and platitudes, it’s about actions and attitudes - living our lives as the Lord asked us to do. It takes a lifetime to achieve.

Of course, we are not strong enough to do this alone. We need God’s help. And that’s why, at the Last Supper, Jesus promised His disciples the Advocate - a name unique to John’s Gospel but meaning a helper, someone ‘called to one’s side’. He is speaking, of course, about the Holy Spirit. We await His coming at Pentecost but we know He is already at work; He gives us strength when we are weak and comfort when we are struck down in the heat of the day. He breathes God’s life into us and allows us to do extraordinary things despite our brokenness. Thanks to this ‘Advocate’ let us try to respond to God’s love with love; let us show our love not through the emptiness of words but fullness of actions; today, let us focus on one aspect of our lives that needs to be changed or improved in some way, even in the midst of lockdown. If you love me you will keep my commandments.

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