Discipleship 101: The Call of Love

He calls to us. “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Will we yield to his call? Will we cross over the wall we have built between him and us? He has come to us eagerly, longingly, leaping on the mountains, bounding over hills: noble, graceful, delighted with us, yearning for us. Not content to wait for us to show up at his doorstep, he has come to our house, he has peered in through our windows, and, seeing that we are still here, he has cried to us, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” There’s no recklessness in his call; he comes to us with abandon, but he also knows it is the right season for love: winter is past, flowers bloom, figs ripen, cultivated vines show their blossoms. Creation plays peacock while our Lord prances to meet us, but we wait to hear his voice. Will we shy away, or will we embrace his transport and delight?

At the heart of discipleship is this call of love: Jesus, beckoning to his Church, to come out from our self-made fortress of sin and unfaithfulness. In the Song of Solomon, the Song of Songs, the Canticle, the Song, we discover God’s rapturous love for his people, for Israel, for Mary, for the Church. The same Love that is revealed to us on the cross as Jesus gives himself up for the sake of the world; the Love that is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us: in the Song of Solomon, this superabundant love spills over every barrier we could contrive. We find in the Song that God’s Love for his Church is a sensuous love affair, poetic, beautiful, dripping like honeycomb, fragrant, radiant. It’s the honeymoon after the wedding night, beaming, bursting, pouring out, shameless—because the Lord has worked for this, has planted the vines, has cultivated the fruit, has looked to us and declared us his lovers. There is no over-the-top here, because each height of love leads to another and another and another.

The call of love is the call of discipleship: Arise my love, and come away, says the Lord; Get up, take up your cross, and follow me. To be a follower of Jesus is to get caught up in God’s searching love, now, right now, because we have been called. We—you and I—are who the Lord loves, and we—you and I—have the chance to respond; to love him as he loves us; to sweep aside our reservations, our reticence; to refuse to blush at his blissful summons. To respond to this love—this is why we are called in the first place. To love, as we have been loved. To be taken with God and God’s love for us—so taken that we gather in the name of his Love, we celebrate the banquet of his Love, and we go out into the world to flaunt his Love which is for us, and for the whole world.

He calls to us. “Arise, Centre Church, my love, my fair one, and come away!.” Away—away from what? Away where? Away from shuttered lives that do not let enough light in to see the face of our Beloved. Away from isolating ourselves from the beautiful transformations that are happening just outside our doorway. Away from the winter of life together, when we have looked around and decided that what we have is good enough as it is. Away to embrace those we might have turned away before. Away to the new creation, which is already flaring up around us, if only we would dare to see it. Away to where “The scatter’d clouds are fled at last/The rain is gone, the winter past,/The lovely vernal flowers appear,/The warbling quire enchant the ear” (Charles Wesley, Scripture Hymns 935). Away to a new way of living which calls for imagination, faith, daring, beauty, and hope in the name of our Beloved and his Love for us.

Christ’s call to Centre frees us from the weights we have borne: My yoke is easy, and my burden is light—winter is now past indeed. Christ’s yoke is easy because he bears it for us; it falls on his shoulders, not our own. Following him, learning from his wisdom yields Love and pleasure and joy—the kingdom of God. But still we must respond. Sitting idly, waiting for him not only to summon us but to break down the wall, or to sneak in through the windows, wondering what we could possibly gain from having things shaken up—all these are ways to spurn his Love, to refuse his invitation. In his call to us, Christ has given us everything we need—but we still need to say, “Yes.”

Christ calls to us. He calls us to be his faithful church, to follow him in the way of discipleship, the way of the cross. This is love: not that we loved him, but that he loves us. There is no discipleship without this love, without the Church receiving what is offered, without Centre responding, “Yes, I will rise and come away with you, my love.”

He calls to us. He calls to you. “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Will you yield? Will you cross over the wall you have built that keeps him out? He has come to you eagerly, longingly, leaping on the mountains, bounding over hills: noble, graceful, delighted with you, yearning for you. Not content to wait for you to show up at his doorstep, he has come to your house, he has peered in through your windows, and, seeing that you are still there, he has cried to you, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” The abandon he shows for his Church is for you, too. He dances on mountains and leaps over hills, for you. Sensing the great love he has for you, creation teems with life as he passes: flowers bloom, birds sing, fruits ripen, vines blossom. All because the Lord loves you. Will you hesitate, or will you embrace his transport and delight?

His call to you is his call to discipleship. Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Rest, satisfaction, joy all climax in his bid of Love to you. Lay aside your burdens and receive his Love. Nestled in the depths of his call is a promise: Christ will give you everything you need for the journey ahead. But you need to say, “Yes.” Maybe you have said yes before, but you need to say it again—he summons you now, here. Maybe you have never managed to utter the word—he is not angry with you. He calls, and he waits. Give him the answer your heart desires. “The voice of your beloved sounds,/While o’er the mountain-tops he bounds,/He flies exulting o’er the hills,/And all your soul with transport will fill!/Gently doth he chide your stay/‘Rise, my love, and come away’” (Charles Wesley, Scripture Hymns 234, altered). Find in his invitation the grace he offers you to say, “Yes. I will come away with you. I will take up my cross, and follow you.”

But do not say, “Yes,” rashly. Christ seeks no tryst, no assignation, no heated affair that flames out after a few hot dates. His love for us, for his Church, his love for you—it’s for life. He does not wander in only to wander back out again, and we must not court his love without an equally serious commitment. With the Lord, there is no way of love without the way of the cross.

But a serious commitment is no less ravishing, for the one who entices us, who enchants us, who captivates us is the Eternal Lord of all. There is no end to his Love for you, for us. Something more, something new, something exciting, something unexpected and enthralling always awaits those who say yes to him, not just the first time, but from now until eternity.

Your Beloved, our Beloved, calls out, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” How can you refuse your Lord and your God?

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