Liturgy for All Souls
Romans 8. 31-39
John 15: 9-17
Love is the command. But how can love be commanded?
Surely love is more something that is beckoned…invited, enticed even? Or perhaps it is better to say that love is a living thing that grows, changing us and changing the world.
But a commandment? Our minds may think of the ten commandments and then to the sense of summoning the personal discipline to do the right thing. Or maybe we remember where Jesus tells us to love our neighbour as ourselves and think this has something to do with the same ‘amount’ of love. But when we hear these words from John’s Gospel to love as we have been loved, it becomes clear that we are talking not about the measure of our love but about love that all comes from the same Divine source. As we gather here, hearts full as we remember those we have loved who have died, we know deeply that we loved not because we were commanded to love. Rather, love grows naturally -often with great power and beauty- in the space between us as we shared our lives.
In John’s Gospel he talks about “abiding” in God. There is a sense here of an effortless remaining in the intimate company of the one who knows and loves you. A way of being caught up in the being of God so that there is an eternal quality to your living and your loving because your Spirit dwells in the life of God. It is this eternal abiding that gives us the hope in an unbroken continuity of our life with God now across the veil of death to life eternal. It is faith in a God who abides in us and with us that means we can remember with hope those we have loved who have died and yet continue to abide in God.
When we think about all love coming from the same source that breathed us into life and holds us in love, then it takes the idea of love as a commandment to a new place. Jesus perhaps would say we must love because it is love that opens us to life and creative power. Without love, we remain enclosed in the confining prison of the self. As James Finley phrases it, “Our union with God is essential to our union with others, and our union with others is essential to our union with God.”
Of course liberation from that self-serving prison does not come without cost, and so it is easy to understand why some may choose not to take the risk of love. As Richard Rohr very bluntly phrases it, “There is a straight line between love and suffering.” To love is to suffer, and it gives fresh insight to the kind of abiding that loving God and loving one another entails- our sharing of the suffering of one another and a God who suffers with us. We may intellectualise about love, or try to obey the commandment to love by an effort of will, but it is only love and the suffering love brings which enables us to die to ourselves and open our hearts to a greater awareness and aliveness, even or, perhaps especially, in the midst of death.
We gather tonight, each with our own grief; and yet it is not just our own. As all love comes from the one source of life, then so also we do not grieve alone. The invitation to abide in the love at the heart of everything is an invitation to see our lives and our loves outside and beyond the confines of our vision and the linear time we know. Our earthly lives are fleeting, but our loves are eternal, held in the source of all being. We miss the presence of the ones we love- miss their dear physical selves present beside us to share our lives- but we can glimpse the truth that in the life of God there truly is no separation. Beyond this vale of tears there is the promise of the eternal present where all our loves dwell in unbroken continuity. So…(paraphrasing Jan Richardson’s beautiful poem)
Believe this love
that it still
…. speaks to you
in undying words,
that it has never ceased
to gather your heart
into its heart.
Believe this blessing
Believe it goes with you
Believe it knows you
still.  +Amen
 Jan Richardson, Blessing That Does Not End
from The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief