Devotion Friday May 01
Cranmer’s Collect appointed for the Second Sunday after Easter reminds us that loving gratitude is the key to becoming more like Jesus. To follow in his footsteps, our affections need to change from focusing on self-gratification to self-giving. But only the unconditional love of God for us can inspire a love as unconditional in response. Yet, the revelation of how much God loves us is the work of Christ’s resurrection power in us, not an act of our own willpower (Eph. 3:16-18).
So how does the Holy Spirit open our eyes to his unconditional love for us? Cranmer’s readings for this week point us back to the cross. According to the Gospel, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gives his life for the Sheep (John 10:11). According to the Epistle, he did so by bearing our sins “in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (I Peter 2:24, quoting parts of Is. 53:4-5). According to Cranmer’s “Homily of Salvation,” when we remember his death and resurrection on our behalf, unless we are “desperate persons” with “hearts harder than stones,” we will be moved to give ourselves wholly unto God and the service of our neighbours. That’s why Holy Communion is at the heart of Anglican worship.
Nicholas Sparks’ romantic book and film entitled The Notebook provides a helpful analogy for understanding the importance of this sacrament in the Christian life. The plot starts off with an old man in a nursing home reading a story from an old battered notebook to an equally elderly woman each day. At first, she is hesitant to be with this stranger, no matter how kind he is. However, as he begins to read through the story of young working-class Noah Calhoun and his doggedly enduring pursuit of the privileged but sweet Allie Nelson, she is initially intrigued, then enthralled. Gradually, as time goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that the notebook is the elderly woman’s own story about their story, her life with the elderly man reading to her, a story she herself wrote down in that very notebook but cannot now remember because of her Alzheimer’s. That is why the old man is reading it to her with such tender, doggedly enduring devotion and love.
Eventually, the moment comes for which Noah has been waiting. Allie’s eyes awaken, and she says, “How long do we have?” Noah replies, “We had five minutes last time.” “I want to dance. Hold me close once again,” Allie asks. Noah takes her in his arms, and they slowly dance - the very picture of recovery of self at last, of finally coming home again, of inner peace finally found, of a long journey finally completed. But after of few splendid minutes of mutual rapture, enjoying the utter joy of once again mutually knowing one another’s company, Allie cries out, “Who is this stranger grabbing me?” Noah bites his finger in angst. Paradise regained only to be lost again.
What a wonderful allegory of the human condition in general. Deceived by the foggy lies of human nature’s millennia-long struggle with spiritual Alzheimer’s, we find ourselves driven to push away from our Creator and his life-giving love, the One in whose arms alone we finally feel at home. Only the direct, on-going intervention of his heavenly wooing has the power periodically to break through our confused haze. By telling us, over and over again, the story of his dogged pursuit of a relationship with us, he calls forth from deep within us the recognition that his story is our story and so restores us to our true selves in his loving embrace. As we regularly honour Jesus by telling his story, the Holy Spirit quickens afresh deep within us how his love honours us, leaving us deeply changed over time as a result. That’s why we Anglicans love to tell the old, old story anew each Sunday in Holy Communion.
Therefore, let’s be inspired to love Jesus today like he loves us, by praying Cranmer’s collect.