"In July 2014, Raphael Hameed was walking with his 5-year-old son, Ish, when they were hit by a speeding car. Raphael lost his leg. Ish, his only son, was killed."1 Their story is one of love – a story of love beyond imagination, of love that, sometimes, can only come after death.
See, after the accident, the driver’s sister, Megiddëh, began to connect with Raphael and his wife Heidi. She would visit them at the hospital, trying to help out where she could. It could’ve been different – she could’ve stayed away, ashamed, afraid. Raphael and Heidi could’ve denied her entry. They were, after all, deeply grieving and I imagine, still in that awful mix of anger and sorrow and sleeplessness. But instead, the door was opened, a friendship formed.
Reflecting on their surprising relationship, Megiddëh said to Raphael, "Raphael, you could easily be still in that hospital bed, angry, like, screaming at the world."
And Raphael responded: "Nah. We love. That’s how we roll. And your sister made a mistake. We all make ‘em. That’s why we try to embrace you guys."
We love. That’s how we roll.
Death? Yes. Suffering? Unbelievably so. But love? Of course. Of course I love you. Of course.
It seems so easy for Raphael, doesn’t it? I cannot imagine having enough capacity for this kind of love – this kind of unrelenting, uncontainable, unhindered kind of love in the face of such tragedy.
But oh, how I pine for this kind of love. It seems the love I carry around in my heart and the kind of love I practice is far more measured. It is boundaried and rehearsed. I know who I want to love and how I want to love them. I know who loves me and who doesn’t. I am made uncomfortable when love acts like I don’t expect it or is extravagant or shows up in places I didn’t see coming.
Maybe you know of this kind of love – a love that says: Yes, mother. I love you but I cannot talk right now. Yes, dear, but I am busy. Yes, I do love you but you’re better off living here. Yes, we do care about you but think this is best.
Love that is present, indeed – absolutely, but love that has yet to be undone by the resurrection. Love that sits in waiting for new life. Love that beckons for more.
When Jesus sits down with Peter in our story, he holds close the memory of all his children – of the ways they love and share love and limit love and attempt to control and shape love. He spent hours upon hours of instruction on love with his followers and yet, he comes back to tell them once again. He comes back to tell Peter – the one he’s charged with the mission of the church.
Remember with me:
The disciples were fishing. They see Jesus. He invites them to throw the net over the side of the boat to get more fish. They do. Their nets are full. They come ashore. Jesus has fish and bread waiting for them. He breaks it. They eat. This is the third time Jesus appears to the disciples after he is raised from the dead.
They finish breakfast and over full bellies and a dwindling fire, Jesus turns to Simon Peter. Peter has sat near a fire recently – but instead of it being morning, it was night and Peter’s words echoed three times: I am not, I am not, I am not with Jesus. But this is a new morning, and he has the chance to echo a new proclamation.
Jesus uses Simon Peter’s formal name – a sign that he is serious and a sign he is asking for a whole-life claim from Peter: "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Three times: do you love me?
Peter replies three times: "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." The third time, Peter’s heart aches – hurt that Jesus would ask him yet again. But he says: Yes. I do love you. I do I do I do.
Every time Peter replies yes – I do love you – Jesus says: Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Or – said more directly: Love my people. Love my people. Love my people.
What is remarkable about this exchange is that Jesus could come back to tell Peter anything – anything – and this is their exchange. Do you love me? Yes. Good. Then love my people. Did you hear me? Love my people. One more time for good measure: love my people.
When one is charged with the building of the church – as Christ charged Peter earlier in the Gospel saying: "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church," (Matthew 16:18) – it seems there would be a whole lot more to it, don’t you think? And yet, Jesus has one final message – completely unmysterious, simple, and straightforward: love my people.
The kind of love Jesus Christ – the Risen Savior – speaks of here is simple and is wholly unlike the love Peter has known before. It is a love that comes from new life – from the resurrected life, from the Resurrected One himself. It is a love that will not be bound to earthly things: to control or to expectation or to boundaries but instead is an unruly, radical, outrageous, too-big-to-hold-alone kind of love. The kind of love Christ professes in his resurrection is one that goes beyond everything Peter – and we’ve – known before. It looks different, it feels different, it acts different. It sets no limits on who it is for. It claims no one group above another. It fills all the gaps rendered by human fear. It is relentless in its pursuit and it is ever mindful how much we need it. This kind of resurrected love, Jesus says, is new life. This kind of love, Peter, is your new life.
I love what happens next, however grim it might read: Peter thrice confirms his dedication and his life to Christ’s call and Christ responds in verse 18: Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go."
See, Peter, Jesus says, This love – this love you’ve committed to – will take you where you do not wish to go.
Before Peter has a chance to respond, Jesus says, "Follow me." The story ends there. Do you love me? Yes. Good, love my people. It will take you where you do not want to go. Let’s go.
We know from later writings that Peter did follow through on his call, preaching on Pentecost and thus, aiding in the birth of the church itself. He did die a violent death, a crucifixion like his Lord’s but at his request, an upside down crucifixion as to not emulate Christ’s death.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is famous for writing: "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." When Christ bids a disciple, he bids him come and die to what was before. Die to a life where love had limits. To where love meant the expected, the controlled, the easy-to-digest.
The Book of Order – one half of our Presbyterian Constitution – interprets this call to discipleship similarly, opening its instruction with: "The church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life." (F-1.0301)
This love will take you where you do not wish to go.
The church – at its best – is a place that risks love.
The love that lives this side of the resurrection:
A love of walking across the aisle and building a new friendship.
A love of forgiveness and reconciliation.
A love that cannot be limited by human-made boundaries of race, gender, sexual orientation, creed, class, age, or ability.
A love that waits for an answer and sticks around in the aftermath. A love that surprises and supersedes all we’ve known and sticks to our ribs. A love that is lived out by the church when it is being church.
A love lived out by you:
A love lived out when a friend suddenly is rushed to the hospital and the texts of support keep coming in – even after they come home.
A love lived out when depression drags you deep down into the miry bog yet again and you see the flashlights of your beloved community shining a way out.
A love lived out when a youth makes a bold and true statement and the adults who made baptismal promises echo to them again: we are here, we are here, we are here and we love you.
A love lived out when someone speaks up when another feels silenced and spaces are made for all voices to be heard.
A love lived out when a friend weeps with you through the night and stands by your side when joy finally comes one morning.
A love lived out that risks all manner of decorum and expectation to reflect the love we know in the Resurrected Christ.
A love that can only come from God. A love worth risking. A love you risk all the time, my friends. A love you live that gives us beautiful glimpses of the Resurrection. A love made real through Christ in you.
To live as Christ’s disciples, he asks us: do you love me?
We do. We do, Lord.
May we take the risk to love one another and in doing so, may we be the church – may we be the church of the Resurrection.
In Christ’s name. Amen.
1. "We love – that’s how we roll." StoryCorps. January 2, 2015.