“But I have this against you that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”
Why would anyone or an entire community abandon their love for God? A community that is commended for their toil, patient endurance, and hatred of evil deeds and does so without growing weary is told to remember the height of love from which they’ve fallen, yet had once attained. The only solution prescribed is repentance, to do the works you did at first. The epistle to the Ephesians gives an indication that the love of this community was at one time unified and self-sacrificial. How did it veer off course? I would suggest that the abandonment of our/their first love starts not with a disappointment with God but rather a disappointment with our community or perhaps even ourselves to the point where we isolate and make the priority “me” rather than “us.”
One could ask: could their love have grown cold because they were weary of persecution and being overworked in ministry? Clearly not, the Ephesians are commended for their endurance and not growing weary. Persecution and burnout only lead to a love that grows cold when it isolates. The greatest danger to church is not nor has ever been persecution, its isolation. It’s being away from the body which sustains us with life and energy. It’s being disconnected from the vine. It’s being too connected or caught up in one’s self that one forgets that there is a body that rejoices and mourns with them. It’s when we cease finding joy in coming together in the name of Christ. Sadly all these things can happen when close to nothing changes on the outside. Isolation and wandering begins inside and its manifestations outwardly are subtle at first. That’s why it so quickly looks like abandonment. Nobody wakes up one day and decides to leave. People leave the body or any relationship after time and rumination on the costs or benefits associated with leaving. Then they go, sometimes, rightly so.
With Christ and His Body, there is never a good reason to leave. There may be plenty of good reasons to leave a church (notice lower case) but no good reason to wane in our love for Christ. This is why Christ calls us as He does so many times even in Communion, to remember. “Remember, therefore” is His appeal. Remember the time I met you in prayer in times of great need: His comfort in loss, heartbreak, even despair of the direction of life. Remember His provision: finances for missions work, strength to serve long days, boldness to share His Word when you would have otherwise been terrified. Remember His touch: healing in the body, mind, heart, his presence when you needed it most, or a perfect word he whispers in your ear that let you rest assure in His promises. Remember His death and resurrection: a death that keeps us from tasting the complete abandonment of the Father and a resurrection that promises us abundant life. Remember His love: He never left, he does not have to return because He never left, and when Jesus literally ascended He left His Spirit as the promise that He’s with us always to the end of the age.
He wants us to return because He is always there, an ever present help and hope. Today I pray we’d remember why Christ is worth returning to.