One of the most tender moments in Xavier Beauvois’ film “Of Gods and Men,” comes near the beginning in a conversation between 82 year old Brother Luc and a young woman from the local village near the monastery.

The old man and the young woman sit beside each other on a bench outside the monastery wall, talking about love. After a pause in the conversation she asks brother Luc,

Ever been in love?

The old monk leans over and replies,

Yes, several times. And then I encountered another love, even greater.

And I answered that love. It’s been a while now. Over 60 years.

In the monks of Tibhirine as they are portrayed in this film, you see a small community of men who have encountered a great love and answered that love by giving their lives in worship to God and service to all God’s people.

Love is the central vision of this film, of the monastic life, indeed of Christian faith.

The Monks of Tibhirine were servants of love. They chose to live peacefully in a land that had been decimated by colonialism, violence, political intrigue, and terrorism.

The tiny Trappist community of eight men at Our Lady of Atlas lived together with profound tenderness and deep mutual respect for one another. Certainly tensions were present. The monks of Tibherine were fully human.

Particularly as the terror of their precarious situation became more acute, the monks experienced the predictable turmoil of human relationships. But they always returned to the deep mutual respect and love they shared in their community life.

The love of the monks of Tibhirine, however, did not stop at the monastery walls. They loved the people who lived in the village around the monastery. They respected their Muslim neighbours. They shared their lives, their skills, and their compassion with everyone without distinction, even terrorists.

The monks did not try to change anyone. They did not try to convince anyone their beliefs were wrong. They only wanted to live alongside their Muslim brothers and sisters in peace, serving them and caring for them in whatever practical ways they could.

On Christmas Eve, after the 1993 invasion of their monastery by Sayah Attia and his men, the monks entered their chapel and chanted,

This is the night, the immense night of origins,
and nothing exists except love,
except love which now begins.

This is the Gospel. In Jesus, the fullness of God’s love, was born in the world.

The reality at the centre of all creation is revealed. The world is sustained by love. The true nature of every human being is love. Love is the beginning and the fullness of the Christian life.

When Christians depart from the reality of love, we always go tragically astray.

Jesus said,

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. (John 13:34)

To live in love is to align oneself with the created order of the universe and with our own truest and deepest nature as creatures created in the image of God who the Bible declares is love.

What does this love look like? Jesus says,

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)

The Gospel is not about being right and having all the answers. It is not about being on the winning side. It is not about having power over anyone.

The Gospel is a call to give our lives for others. Christian faith is the action of love. It is about giving power away. We live in obedience to Christ when we lay down our power, privilege, and position in order to offer ourselves for the benefit of the other.

In the early 1960’s when he was a young French soldier in Algeria, Christian DeCherge was befriended by Mohammed, a Muslim policeman. One day when they were walking together, they were approached by armed Algerian rebels who threatened to kill Christian. Mohammed stepped between Christian and the gunmen and ordered them to leave him alone, declaring that he was a godly man and a friend of Islam. The gunmen withdrew.

Two days later Mohammed’s body was found near his home in Ain Said. He had been executed in reprisal for his defense of a foreigner.

Brother Christian never forgot that a Muslim had laid down his life to protect his Christian brother. For Christian this act embodied the reality of Christ’s love. Christian believed the Spirit of Christ had been at work in Mohammed as he gave his life in love for his friend.

Perhaps the call to answer that “greater” love is just too simple for us to embrace. It is easier to turn the message of Jesus into an elaborate scheme for figuring out who is right and who is wrong. But, the further we depart from the call to love, the further we depart from that presence of love that is the source and meaning of our existence. The closer we come to love, the closer we draw to the fullness of our true humanity whether as a Christian or as a Muslim.

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