Like most old people, I wake up very early, usually 5 a.m. My morning coffee is already perking, set the night before on automatic timer. Perhaps I’ll have a slice of toast. But then I take my cup of coffee back to bed to watch the early reports on Fox news. Of course, it is difficult to drink coffee lying flat in bed, so I have taken to the use of a plastic straw to sip this early refreshment. A cousin noticed my supply of straws and was somewhat amused at my practice. About a week ago the mail arrived containing a package of four metal straws with rubber tips ― billed as ideal for hot drinks in thermos cups! The thoughtful gesture was a surprise and a treat! The day before Easter I was sitting on my front porch when a van drew up in front of the house. The driver came to the door with a fine bouquet of Easter flowers from a family of former parishioners going way back to Coventry days. Again, their thoughtfulness was touching and reassuring. Occasionally an e-mail comment will be forwarded to me via a parish in which I have served from someone who has enjoyed my comments in The Quiet Corner. Such complimentary observations are always a delight not only because of their appreciative words but even more so because they are freely offered. Unsolicited and unexpected tokens like these of thoughtfulness, kindness, and respect are made all the more enjoyable and gratifying because they come as a bolt from the blue. The surprise adds to the enjoyment.
This coming Sunday’s Scripture readings celebrate, on an infinitely higher plane, the surprising, spontaneous, even startling love of God for his creatures. God’s love indeed comes as a bolt from the blue, or more appropriately, as a grace from our heavenly Father. “Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” While Peter was still speaking these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word. The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles also, for they could hear them speaking in tongues and glorifying God.” The early Christian community, mostly of Jewish background, was stunned that God should freely bestow gifts of heavenly grace on their Gentile neighbors. The spontaneity of God’s love left them speechless.
The second reading, from St. John, also teaches that true love originates as an unexpected gift from above: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” Accordingly Jesus, as Son of God, follows the lead his Divine Father in taking the initiative in his manifestations of love. The Savior instructs his disciples, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain…” Jesus loves all of his earthly brothers and sisters first, long before they may take any steps to declare their love for him. Yes, Jesus, like the Father, is the initiator of love. Jesus reminds his followers, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” Christ’s love, like the Father’s, comes as a surprise, as a gift, as a grace. God by his very nature is always an initiator. He is full of surprises. This is why St. John could write flatly but accurately, “God is love.” Believers are always the recipients of God’s love. And as believers they should be constantly on the alert to discern the surprising love of God which reveals itself in diverse ways ― some quite comforting, others quite challenging; some quite cheering, others quite confounding.
British actor Alistair Sims in the role of an Anglican clergyman in the movie, “The Ruling Class,” comforted a bereaved family observing, “God is very merciful, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.” And indeed there is a lot of evidence to the contrary: disease, terrorism, poverty, violence, dishonesty, family dysfunction. Yet the believer must confront these sad facts with a bolstering Christian faith in the unalterable goodness of a loving God. “For those who love God, all things work together unto good,” St. Paul courageously teaches. And it is in difficult times especially that believers must remind themselves that “God is love,” that the God who challenged his Son with the Cross is the same God who raised his Son from the tomb. God’s love, like his wisdom, might not be immediately evident to the individual believer. But this is precisely what it means to be a believer: to accept the goodness of God on supernatural faith, not on reckonable data.
In the moment, God’s love can be elusive; but in the long run, God’s love will prove effective. But this is precisely why Jesus established a Church, a community of fellow believers whose abiding faith offers reassurance on difficult days and steadfast support in tense times.