“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8, ESV)
I can still remember being a kid sitting in a wooden chair in Sunday school putting together a papercraft with the words, “God is Love” pasted across the bottom. In the midst of the broken crayons and chunks of dried glue, that simple phrase settled in my heart and mind.
When I got older, I would attend the church’s confirmation and youth group. It was through these experiences that I began to learn how much more complex the reality of one living and true God is.
“I believe,” the opening statement of the Apostles’ Creed says, “in God, the Father, the Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”
Every Wednesday I spend part of my evening at the L’Arche community in Lynchburg. There are L’Arche communities all over the world made up of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Wednesdays is the Lynchburg community’s Spiritual Life Night. Since October I have been leading this time which we spend in prayer, scripture reading, and singing.
Last night at the L’Arche Spiritual Life Night, we sang a bunch of songs, as we usually do. One of them was Jesus Loves Me, which we sing almost every week. It is a song we often think is just for children. As we sang it last night, one of the residents, Steve, was in a different part of the house. As we sang, he stopped what he was doing and walked into our space. He stood next to me and uttered sounds that told us he was singing along. He looked in the direction of my songbook, and I handed it to him. He took it from me and started “singing” louder. As the song started to to come to an end, Steve moved on.
He knew the song and wanted to sing along.
It reminded me of a story I heard Connie Hopper tell once about visiting her older brother. She would take him recordings of her family group’s gospel music to listen to. The recording that got the most use, was that of their version of Jesus Loves Me.
No matter what our mental capability, state of our memory, or place in life, there are great hymns and songs of faith that help us remember that Jesus loves us. And there is none better than the song most of us learned growing up in the church as young children. And it reinforces the work of those Sunday school teachers and children’s ministers who teach the essence of the Christian faith, without all of the complexities: Jesus loves me.
The story goes that a student asked the theologian Karl Barth to summarize his theological in one sentence. Barth is reported to have said, “To quote a song I learned from my mother’s knee, ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.'”