Signs of Love

What is true love?

One little girl explained, “Love is when your mommy reads you a bedtime story.  True love is when she doesn’t skip any pages.”

Other children offered their ideas.  Jan stated, “No one is sure why love happens, but I heard it has something to do with how you smell.  That’s why perfume and deodorants are so popular.”  Bart advised, “Take the girl out to eat. Make sure it is something she likes to eat.  French fries usually works for me.”  Roger explained that falling in love is “like an avalanche where you have to run for your life.”  Leo lamented, “If falling in love is anything like learning how to spell, I don’t want to do it.  It takes too long.”  And Regina shared, “I’m not rushing into being in love—I’m finding fourth grade hard enough.”

Despite Leo’s and Regina’s reservations the longing for love may be the most fundamental longing of the human soul.  J. Paul Getty, who was one of the richest individuals in the world in his time, put it bluntly, “I would give my entire fortune for one happy marriage.”  John Cheever recognized a deeper longing.  He wrote, “Homesickness is…absolutely nothing.  Fifty percent of the people in the world are homesick all the time…. You don’t really long for another country.  You long for something in yourself that you don’t have, or haven’t been able to find.”  What Cheever touches on is the deep longing in the human soul to be filled with the love of the Creator.

Wanting his disciples (and all of us) to know that he came into our world to meet that longing, Jesus shared a meal with his disciples the night before his death.  During the meal, he spoke to them of true love.  Specifically, he took bread and broke it and gave it to them, saying, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26).  Then he took a cup and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

When Jesus took bread and broke it—the unleavened bread of the Passover meal, the bread known as the Bread of Affliction in the Passover custom—Jesus was saying to them (and to us), ‘This bread represents me, laying my life on the line for you, giving my life up for you.  As such, the bread of communion represents true love.  From here on out, whenever you eat that bread, may it assure you that you are the recipient of true love.’

And when Jesus took the cup of wine—the third cup of the Passover meal, referred to as the Cup of Redemption in the Passover  custom—Jesus was saying to them (and to us), ‘This cup represents me, pouring out my life’s blood for you.  As such, this cup represents true love.  From here on out, whenever you drink this cup, may it assure you that you are the recipient of true love.’

While Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in prison for his outspoken opposition to Adolf Hitler, he received a care package from his parents.  He wrote back to them, expressing his gratitude for their gift: “It is Monday, and I was just sitting down to a dinner of turnips and potatoes when a parcel you sent me by Ruth arrived.  Such things give me greater joy than I can say.  Although I am utterly convinced that nothing can break the bonds between us, I seem to need some outward token or sign to reassure me.  In this way, material things become the vehicles of spiritual realities.  I suppose it is rather like the felt need in our religion for sacraments.”

Bonhoeffer knew that his parents loved him and that nothing could break the bonds between them.  Nevertheless, he admitted that he seemed “to need some outward token or sign to reassure” him.  The bread and the cup that are shared at communion are the outward tokens or signs that reassure us that we are the recipients of God’s true love!

 One evening, just before Mary Martin was to go on stage in the Broadway production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific, Mary received a note from Oscar Hammerstein, who was on his death bed.  The note said, “Dear Mary, a bell’s not a bell till you ring it.  A song’s not a song till you sing it.  Love in your heart is not put there to stay.  Love isn’t love till you give it away.”

After her performance that night, it is reported that people rushed backstage crying, “Mary, what happened to you out there tonight?  We never saw anything like that performance before?”

Blinking back tears, Mary read to them the note from Oscar Hammerstein, then she said, “Tonight, I gave my love away.”

Whenever we take of the bread and cup at communion, they declare to us that Jesus gave his love away!

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