A couple of months back, I wrote a blog post called A Heart Prepared. It was the first in a series of blog posts I had hoped to write explaining the various things we say and do during an Anglican communion service. Well, as we look towards communion again this Sunday, I thought it was high time that I wrote another! This week I want to focus on the Summary of Law that comes near the beginning of the service:
Our Lord Jesus Christ said, the first commandment is this: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord. You shall Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
As you might have guessed, these words were not part of a new composition by the Anglican reformers, but were rather taken directly from the Gospel of Mark. Jesus first spoke these words in answer to a question. A scribe came to Jesus and asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” And it was with these words that we read as part of the communion service that he answered.
As you can see, Jesus did not answer with a single commandment out of the lot. Rather, he brilliantly summarized the whole of the ten commandments in these two. The ten commandments are usually broken down into two sections: The first four pertaining to our relationship with God, and the last six dealing with how we relate to the world and those around us. However, Jesus manages to boil all ten down to these two statements. And what is more, he states them positively.
Whereas Israel had spent hundreds of years adding to the commandments long list of things you could and should not do, Jesus gets straight to the heart of what the commandments were supposed to help us do from the beginning: Love God with everything that we are, and love our neighbours as ourselves. It’s something that we fail to do over and over again.
The other remarkable thing about this exchange is the scribe’s response to Jesus. After Jesus summarizes the commandments, the scribe says:
“You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength and to love one’s neighbour as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
As if Jesus needed this scribe to tell him that his answer was good! Nevertheless, Jesus recognized that he had answered wisely and said to the scribe, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Really? Because of that? What’s so significant about what the scribe said?
It’s not enough to do the right things and say the right things for the one hour we come together on a Sunday morning.
What the scribe recognized in Jesus’s summary of the Law was that how we live actually matters. It’s not enough to do the right things and say the right things for the one hour we come together on a Sunday morning. The whole of our lives need to be a sign and a foretaste of this reality: Love of God and love of neighbour. That is not to say that it doesn’t matter what we say or do on a Sunday morning. It does matter. It matters a great deal and we ought to our best to get it right. But God cares far more that our lives, both individually and as a community, reflect the sacrificial love that Jesus showed on the cross: The epitome of love of God and love of neighbour.
So why say them as part of a communion service? Because we tend to forget. We forget that our whole lives are meant to be transformed by the gospel and that hearing Jesus’ words here are a way of bringing the other six days of the week into our worship on Sunday morning. Following Jesus is not simply a spiritual matter – it is a mental, physical and emotional matter as well. We also tend to forget how far short of this we fall. We can easily slip into patterns of religion, believing that it is possible for us to live up to these commandments on our own. We read them therefore, as a way of highlighting our own inability to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves. However, we also read them as a reminder that Christ was able. And it is only through his life, death, resurrection and ascension – which we participate in through the bread and wine – that we even have a hope of loving God and loving our neighbour.