An Ancient Christian Symbol of Love || Guest Post by Aaron Kunce

This past Sunday, we looked at the ancient symbol of love from church history, sometimes depicted in stained glass, and it’s the image of a pelican.

And the reason that the pelican has been one of the ancient symbols of Christianity is because the pelican had been observed doing something very striking. If its little chicks were starving, the pelican, in an act of self-sacrifice, would pierce her own heart to give sustenance to her young ones so they would survive.

Medieval Christians began to use the image of a pelican to symbolize the sacrificial love of Jesus—who gave his life for our redemption and for the atonement he made through his passion and death. References to the pelican and its Christian meaning are found in Dante’s Divine Comedy, Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, and many other writings.

I don’t know if pelicans do this act of sacrifice or if it is merely legend. But the fact remains, that it became a powerful symbol of costly, sacrificial love.

And love has a cost—right?

Love can involve pain and it can involve discomfort. If there is no pain and no discomfort, is it actually love? Love is willing to be interrupted for the good of another.

A person who shows up with love is willing to have their heart moved, hurt, or pierced for those in need.

The essence of love is willing the good of the other and taking action to bring about that good. Love is a deep valuing of someone, a steady orientation toward, and an enduring commitment to someone or something. And it involves our desire.

When we open our lives to receive the love of God and then allow his love to reorder our love toward God and others, then he brings beautiful order to the chaos and remakes us in the image of his Son, Jesus.

One of my favorite New Testament scholars (yes, there are several that have been very influential for me) is Michael Gorman, who teaches theology at a seminary in Baltimore. He is brilliant. My favorite of his many excellent books is called Becoming the Gospel. It’s an academic book and pretty dense, but its central thesis is simple, powerful, and beautiful.

Gorman says that God desires for us to fully participate and embody the gospel of Jesus Christ, to the extent that we actually become the peace … the justice … the hope … and the love of Christ that this world is deeply hungering after. That God wants to so flood our lives with the love of Jesus, that we actually become love in this lost and hurting world.

So that when we show up, love shows up.

And if you’ve blown it (like me) and have been a weak, haphazard, disordered lover, know that God specializes in meeting us right where we are and transforming us.

And he invites us to daily practice his way of love. And yet, everywhere we look, the world seems to be giving up on love. And of all people in the world, in our country, in our community, we can’t be the ones giving up on love.

We can never give up on love.

Love will change the world. It’s a high calling—the highest virtue. We are called to resist the lure of every vice, especially indifference, and to let Christ’s love be formed in us.

Perhaps you and I can be a pelican of sorts to the people around us who are hungering and thirsting in dire need of the love of Jesus.

Pastor Aaron Kunce