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Today we celebrate Alcuin of York. He was born in 732 and the first 50 years of his life was spent in Yorkshire where he was a pupil at the Cathedral School, later its headmaster. He met Kings Charles the Great of France on his way back from a visit to Rome and was invited to join the royal court as adviser on religious and educational matters. His last years were spent as Abbot of the Benedictine Abbey of St Martin at Tours, where he established a school and a library. He was not a great or innovative thinker, but was a great teacher and scholar and a copious writer of letters.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit —fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
Last Sunday we heard about the ‘new’ commandment that Jesus was giving, to ‘love one another as I have loved you’. Showing love to others was not new, but what was new about this commandment was that love must be shown, not as the world understood love, but as Jesus himself practised it, completely selflessly with nothing expected in return. A couple of chapters on in John’s gospel and the commandment is reinforced.
The phrase that jumps out at me in this passage is ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you’. This is what happens with God – we do not choose him, but he calls us; he calls us by our name. Some respond immediately, others take a little time, some take a long time, but as a wise monk once said to me ‘God will get you in the end!’ I pray that you may find the courage and strength to love as Jesus loves.
And so we pray the Collect for Alcuin of York:
God of wisdom, eternal light,
who shone in the heart of your servant Alcuin,
revealing to him your power and pity:
scatter the darkness of our ignorance that,
with all our heart and mind and strength,
we may seek your face
and be brought with all your saints
to your holy presence;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen