Grace and peace to us from God our Father and the Lord Jesus. Reflecting on the Gospel today from John chapter 13, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, sanctify us in your Word, your Word is truth. (Amen.)
Dear Christian Friends, we know that love makes the world go round; we’ve sung it, watched it on TV and movies, read it, and at times felt it when the world was so rosy all because we were in love. I have heard both song writers and script writers say that at the heart of most of their work is love – how love feels, what it means to be in love, how love makes people behave, how love wins out in the end, the sacrifices love can make, loves lost, and how love is eternal.
Love seems to be that mercurial, exotic ingredient and spice that makes life worth living. It is an intensely personal thing and is regarded as a feeling and an emotion that comes and goes. “You can’t create it yourself, it just happens”, people say. Young people who wonder what it’s like to be in love and how they can tell the difference between liking someone and loving them are often left scratching their heads when told, “Don’t worry, you’ll know when you’re in love”.
If love is this magic butterfly that flits here and there resting on people for a time and then leaving at other times then tonight’s message from Jesus is wrong. If love is basically an emotion that comes and goes then what Jesus says tonight doesn’t make sense and will only produce guilt. If love is something that just happens on its own agenda then Jesus is arrogant and audacious for even saying the words he said:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
Jesus commands love. We ask, “How can anyone command another person to love?”. If I demanded love from my wife or my congregation and commanded it, you would quickly tell me that love is a gift (which is true), the sweetness of which is that it is freely given rather than given under command or compulsion. To command love is audacious to say the least – yet that is what Jesus actually does!
This command by Jesus on the last night of his life is a fitting summary of what Jesus had been doing throughout his public ministry. He was always doing the unexpected. His opponents seemed to be forever throwing up their hands in horror and exclaiming, “Oh, the audacity of the man!”. Jesus consorted with the scum of society, performed miracles with an apparent shocking disregard for religious protocol and propriety, challenged the religious leaders constantly and exposed their hypocrisy, taught the Scriptures and treated them as if he owned them, touched lepers and the dead and didn’t seem to mind in the least that he was ritually unclean, forgave people their sins, and accepted people’s worship of him as if it was the normal thing to do.
You’d think Jesus would take a rest on the last night of his life. But Jesus continued to shock people – and this night he even shocked his disciples. Firstly, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Now washing feet isn’t unusual – it is a part of hospitality – but it is unusual when the Master washes the servants’ feet. Jesus was demonstrating very clearly that he was among them as one who serves and he was also saying something to the disciples about how he regarded them.
The other thing Jesus did was celebrate the most special of Jewish meals, the Passover. Yet even here Jesus acts as law unto himself for he takes the most sacred of Jewish feasts and from it brings into existence a new feast to supersede the old one. If the priests and Pharisees had witnessed that, I think they would have lynched Jesus on the spot!
Jesus establishes a new covenant in his own blood. Jesus gives us his last will and testament. And this covenant and testament can only come into effect with Jesus’ own death; the shedding of his blood. Only through Jesus can people receive forgiveness of sins, life, and peace with God and with themselves. That is what Jesus has been on about throughout his life. He actually is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. It is not what Jesus teaches that is first and foremost important – it is what he does! And he sacrifices himself so that you might live – now and for ever.
If we were to ask why Jesus went through all he did or how best to describe everything Jesus did for us then the best words would have to be – Jesus loves us. That’s what love is about – his actions, behaviour, and sacrifice just for you. When we talk about love we tend to talk about love from our perspective, how we feel, what we are experiencing. Yet in this last night of Jesus’ life and as the darkness played its hand upon Jesus we can sense that no matter what Jesus was personally experiencing – he was loving his disciples; loving you and me completely – in a way you have never been loved before! Love is action, a matter of the will (even discipline at times) around which feelings and emotions swirl.
And Jesus describes how his disciples, people who are in a covenant relationship with him, people who have received his love are to live with the words “love one another”. Jesus is not talking about conjuring up warm fuzzy feelings for each other or just the people we like. Jesus is talking about how we should practically live each day. Jesus is reminding us of his own love freely given and that sharing that love is not an optional extra for his followers but an essential element of being a Christian. Our behaviour is no longer determined by our feelings, by how other people treat us, or by our fears but instead by Jesus who says to us, “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another”.
How should we then obey Jesus’ command to his followers to love one another? The answers are as varied as we are individuals and as our circumstances are different. Paul was inspired to give us a good insight into practical Christian living (or loving!) when he wrote in Galatians, “Carry each another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Simply put, we are to care physically and spiritually for each other; pray for each other (and for our enemies); help each other; encourage each other; want what’s best for each other without jealousy or pride; think, do, say whatever will help each other live as God’s child.
But it is a tall order to love all the time, isn’t it? I remember as a child thinking that Jesus could do everything perfectly – even loving – but that I wasn’t perfect so what was the point of trying so hard because I always mucked things up. Why did Jesus give commands that I could never keep?
Then Jesus comes again, like he did on that last night of his life and just as audaciously washes feet, serves us, helps us, and does what is best in our lives. Jesus has not abandoned us. He has not abandoned you.
When we commune – and that day will come again – Jesus comes in his body and blood (a person is actually present where his body and blood is!) in the bread and wine to forgive us, strengthen us, comfort us; simply, to love us. Our Lord is still mightily at work. He is not waiting for us to get our act together. As we eat and drink his meal so Jesus empowers us to love for he himself creates love! After all, God is love!
Jesus can give us a new commandment because he knows what he is talking about. Jesus is love personified and he gives himself to us in love so that we may love one another. That is what tonight, tomorrow, and Sunday are all about – God loving us!
And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. [Amen]
- John 13:1 - 35