Revelation 21. 1 – 16

John 13. 31 - 35

Fr Alex


If I asked you, ‘Who are you?’ I wonder how you’d respond.  You might start by telling me your name; maybe where you live; perhaps you’d tell me about your career or hobbies.

I could do the same about me.  And as we continued trading information about ourselves, we could build up quite a detailed picture of each other.

But I wonder if we would really know each other.  I don’t think so.  Knowing – being known – takes a very long time.  And it takes more than just information.

I heard recently that in some parts of Africa, if you want to get to know someone you don’t ask, ‘Who are you?’ but rather, ‘Why are you here?’ 

I find this really interesting.  We’re obsessed with accumulating information in the West – I’ve often wondered how many trees have had to die to print all the forms I’ve ever had to fill in!

But a question like ‘Why are you here?’ takes us out of the realm of the mind – the gathering of information – and into the realm of the heart – our motives, our desires – our meaning.

And I think this is what Jesus is getting at in our Gospel reading today – and indeed throughout his earthly ministry. 

He’s never very impressed with those who rely on knowing all the rules, and following them to the letter.  He calls people to turn to God in their hearts, and not just their heads.

When he sends his disciples out to spread the good news, he doesn’t teach them a convincing sales pitch – in fact he tells them very little at all.  He simply tells them to go and bring his peace to those they meet.

And in our reading today, during the Last Supper, the last chance to tell his disciples exactly what they need to know to carry on the great work he has begun – what does he command them to do?

To love each other.  And it’s through that love that people will know who they are.  It is their love for one another that will draw people to God – not their intellectual arguments, or clever reasoning.

Just have a think about the group of saints to which Jesus gives this commandment, in our reading.  What do you know about them?  Probably not all that much.

In fact there isn’t that much anyone knows about them.

Take St Mary Magdalene, the first witness to the resurrection, the ‘apostle to the apostles.’  A pretty important figure in our faith, it’s fair to say.  We don’t even really know who she was.

Was she a repentant prostitute, as people have often said, or was she a wealthy woman who supported Jesus’ ministry, as the Gospel of Luke suggests?  Is she the one who anointed Jesus’ feet with her hair, or was that a different Mary?

We don’t know, and we know even less about some of the other people Jesus chose to follow him.  And this might seem strange, to our information-obsessed culture.

But it’s not the information that’s the point.  It’s not where they came from, or even what they did, really, that counts – it’s who they are in Christ; it’s being known and loved by God, and sharing that love with the world.

I remember when the news broke some years ago about Archbishop Justin’s parentage – when he found out his biological father was not the man he had grown up with, and it was put all over the news.

In an interview he was asked how he felt, how he was coping with living with this life-changing news.

And he responded, so movingly: “I know that I find out who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes.”

He wasn’t saying that who we are doesn’t matter: but that it’s not all the details of life that give meaning to our existence; our status, our stuff, our wealth, or whatever.  All of that can change; much of it might actually be an illusion.  But our identity in Christ can never change.

When Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb at Easter, she was afraid, she was devastated, she didn’t know what had happened.

But when Christ said her name, she saw.  She didn’t just see Jesus: she saw the new life of Easter, the victory of life over death.  And she saw who she was, a redeemed child of God, when Jesus said her name.

She found her identity, the meaning of her existence, in being fully known by God; she found it in the love that Jesus showed for the world, in taking our sins to the cross.

So who are we?  Why are we here?

We are here because of love.  The love that created us, the love that redeemed us.  That is who we are: loved and known by God.

And I think that’s a pretty good stab at an answer to that eternal question, ‘What is the meaning of life?’  I think this is the meaning of life: to know that we are loved, and to love one another.  What would our world look like if we believed that?

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Amen.