“If we love one another, Yahweh lives in us, and Yahweh’s love is made perfect in us,” First John 4. The scripture reading for the Fifth Week of Eastertide begins with the phrase, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from Yahweh. Everyone who loves is born of Yahweh.” One of the earliest lessons we learn in religious education, was taught by the one whose victory over hate we celebrate this Eastertide. Jesus gave a new commandment to his followers saying, “Love one another as I have loved you.” By demonstrating this love, others will know you are followers of the Way, the Truth, and the Life. While this may have been the first time the converts of the new covenant heard such a message, those who were familiar with the old covenant would have learned from Leviticus 19:18 “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against any of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”
Love has everything to do with the way we live our lives in community. As we look at the ministry of the early Church, we learn that they cared for each other unconditionally. Where ever there was a need, the early church responded in tangible ways. Where every ministry was taking place, they provided for its sustainability. The early church lived through some of the worst of times as persecution was rampant in their community. The enemy tried to blot out the mission that was emerging. Their survival down through the ages is evidence of Yahweh’s providential care. They lived in hope in spite of their present circumstances.
Jesus, in one of his sessions with his followers, taught them to be prepared for the natural and unnatural disasters that will happen. We can look at the present-day disasters and recognize that they were foretold from ancient time. In the midst of all that may seem like doom and gloom, there is a window of hope that through the grace of God all of us do not necessarily have to suffer the same fate. There is an old adage, ‘when your neighbor’s house is on fire, you must wet your own.’ This we can already recognize from our own experience, that all disasters do not affect the whole world at the same time; and when they do affect us all, it reminds us of how interdependent we are on each other as a people. It not only reminds us that we must never take our freedoms for granted, but that we must also consider the freedom of others.
As a people these troubling times must teach us how circumstances can bring down the mighty from their seats and level the playing field for all. What happens on one island can affect the lives of others on other islands, significantly. It is written that the Earthquake of 1867 caused a tsunami that devastated the towns of the Virgin Islands; and hear this, the tsunami reached all the way to Grenada and destroyed their city’s seaport.
So, you see, when one suffers, we all suffer together. Right here in the Caribbean there is compounded suffering as over twenty thousand people had to flee from the destruction caused by a volcanic eruption. Many flee to places they never thought of living. We as the communities of faith must emulate our model, the early church that readily responded wherever there was a need. In this way we lay up treasures for ourselves. We do so mindful that rain falls on the just and the unjust. You see, we too one day will find ourselves in need, and then our help will come from the Creator of heaven and earth who alone puts spirit in humanity to be compassionate to each other.
We do not know how long this pandemic will last, but we cannot let our guard down. One of our neighbors to the east of the Virgin Islands did very well during the first year of this pandemic. Many prematurely claimed their freedoms and ignored the established protocols and guidelines to protect the whole community. Today, they are in total lockdown. This could have been avoided if they only recognized the interdependence of the whole community and how one’s actions can affect a whole community and Island.
May we all learn from the examples close at hand! When we know of family and friends who were affected with COVID-19, only then do we realize how significant it is to change our model of behavior and set the example for others to follow. Let us love each other to the point where we make sacrifices so others may live. That is the Easter story.
The Lord is risen indeed.
— The Rt. Rev. E. Ambrose Gumbs is bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of the Virgin Islands.