Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?
I am reminded of an anecdote of a teacher’s exercise: students were asked to bring in pictures of people they hated. As they entered the class one day, those pictures were up on a corkboard, and students were invited to throw darts at their ‘hated’ pictures. Once the darts were all thrown, the teacher removed the pictures to reveal that each photo covered a picture of Jesus. The lesson was that by hating and hurting someone else, we are in fact hating and hurting the Christ within them. A poignant lesson; one on which we might all reflect as we consider this 4th baptismal vow.
Seek and Serve
Seeking Christ is not an easy task; especially in a culture where shame and criticism are abundantly shared. But through this vow, we commit to not only try to find the Christ present in everyone, but also to serve as a result. If we make no effort to find the presence of God in another person, we cannot possibly hope to serve the Christ there. This service reflects more on the servant than the one being served; no matter how it is received it is the ministry of the baptised to serve.
I have yet to meet a person who liked everyone, however as no one is incapable of receiving God’s love it is not our place to judge who is worthy. It is easy to seek and serve and share agape with those we like and who like us, it is equally important to do likewise when there is dislike. We are called to love and serve those who hurt as much as those who are hurt. This vow challenges us to prayerfully reflect on our own (unliked) behaviours, and to consider our response to those who don’t like us.
In all of the gospels, Jesus uses “agape” (ἀγάπη) when commanding us to love our neighbours; this is the perfect, unconditional, self-sacrificing love that calls for a deep commitment to the well-being of all others. As such, this vow to love transcends our personal feelings towards other people; as the baptised we commit ourselves to love all people, regardless of whether or not we like them.
Who is your neighbour? Secularly defined, neighbours are those to whom we are close (either in geography or in opinion); yet biblically a neighbour is any and every being beloved by God. We are called to a higher standard through our baptism, living the reality that in the family of God we are all neighbours. This means that we must look past such adages as “good fences make good neighbours;” and actively find ways to practice respect over distance, integrity over indifference, reconciliation over rejection.
Have mercy upon us, your children.
Forgive us our eagerness to build barricades in our relationships.
Forgive us our hesitancy to love one another as we love you.
Forgive us our rejection of you in our rejection of those we don’t like.
Holy One, Have mercy on us, your children.
Help us to look for commonalities rather than differences in those we meet.
Help us to amend our own attitudes to better reflect our kin-ship in your kingdom.
Help us to trust that others are seeking to serve the Christ that they see in us.
Have mercy on us, your children.
Guide us to live into the hope and promise of redemption that only you can offer us.