|Mt. Hope Cemetery on fall afternoon|
Yet I hold this against you:you have lost the love you had at first.Realize how far you have fallen.Repent, and do the works you did at first.Otherwise, I will come to youand remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Rev 2:4-5Revelations is a tricky read. It is filled with symbolism, allegory and hyperbole. It uses symbolic systems which are not immediately understandable to 21st century ears and minds. Yet, this passage from a prophecy to be made to the church at Ephesus grabbed me. It is not symbolic and seems to speak directly to me.
This criticism follows several verses in which the Ephesians are praised for their astuteness in recognizing false prophets and for keeping the content of their Christian faith pure from the pagan influences within which they lived. This is high praise indeed given the important role that Ephesus played in Roman world. It was second only to Rome in terms of trade and political influence. It was the center of the Emperor Cult and was the location of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was, in short, not a friendly environment for Christianity and yet the church there is praised for maintaining its integrity and not falling back into its earlier beliefs.
And yet, the church is criticized in quite a fundamental way. It had "lost the love" it had at first. The love not just of the Divine One, not just of Jesus, but for each other had somehow weakened and was no longer a major characteristic of the Ephesian church. It was as though everyone was following the rules. Everyone was careful and correct in their beliefs and religious practice. But the spirit of love had seeped away and no longer animated their individual and common life. Apparently they were, in fact, sliding back into a reliance on law rather than the spirit. If that kept up, they would soon be no different than the "powers that be" against whom Jesus preached and who ultimately murdered him.
However the church at Ephesus received these words and however it responded is not the point. These words are in the scriptures because they have relevance to me today. To what extent have I become a proper and correct Christian without the spirit of love that animated my first glimmers of faith? To what extent has Christianity in America become overly concerned with proper behavior, following rules, and correctness and forgotten the admonition of Jesus to "love one another as I have loved you?" Have we become afraid of this spirit of love and feel safer with being proper and correct?
The path to reclaiming that spirit of love runs through prayer and not the rote prayers of petition or praise but the prayer of quite meditation. As difficult as it might seem, the emptiness of meditative prayer will fill us with the spirit and love of the Divine One. That fullness will bloom in our lives as fruit appears in an orchard: naturally and timely without any concern for correctness or propriety.