Filed under: Sermons, Uncategorized | Tags: holy week, Jesus, last commandment, last supper, maundy thursday
“I give you a new commandment,” Jesus says to the disciples gathered around the table, “that you love one another” (34).
This new commandment is the focus of our worship this evening. It is how this first of the three holiest days receives its name. In Latin, the word for commandment is mandatum. Today we read from the Gospel of John that Jesus’ last teaching before his death is to give the disciples a new commandment. So we celebrate today as Maundy Thursday.
Jesus continues, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” (34b-35).
This new commandment is followed in community. Only through relationships and interactions can it be upheld. This commandment will also be a witness. As the disciple acts in love, the world will notice, and know that this is done through obedience to Jesus. Jesus loves first, teaching and transforming the disciple so that she is able to love.
“Love one another.” This command comes to us, who seek to follow Jesus today. It is a difficult commandment. Some of the difficulty comes from our misuse and misunderstanding of the word “love.” We use this word to describe everything from our sugar dependence (as in, “I love M&Ms) to our infatuation with celebrity (“I love Justin Bieber) to our fluttering pulse and emotional high at the beginning of a relationship (I love my new crush). Jesus has to break through all our baggage with this word “love” to inspire us towards the faithful action he intends. It’s nice to talk about Jesus loving us, but sometimes it’s hard to feel the connection to our own lives. People seem to like singing “Jesus loves me,” but I’m not really sure what that means to them.
Jesus teaches the disciples to love by first loving them. For Jesus, “loving” is acting and living in a specific way. He embodies this love in his incarnation, life, and death, which all takes place because he wants the world to know his love.
“Love one another.” Jesus says this to disciples who, in the middle of ministry with Jesus, have argued about who was the greatest among them. Some of whom have requested to receive special places of honor, to be rewarded for their faithfulness.
For these disciples, who seek prestige and honor, Jesus loves by showing humility. Here, in the Gospel of John, we see Jesus, the respected leader and beloved teacher, kneeling in front of his disciples. Jesus takes on the role of a slave. He kneels at their feet, and washes this most dirty part of their bodies. He touches that which has walked through the world, picking up bits of dirt and refuse, carrying evidence of all the wandering paths they have trod.
Jesus is our Lord and Teacher, and we who seek to be his disciples are servants to this master, the messengers to this one who has sent us. This master, this one who has sent us, has knelt as a slave. In order to love us, Jesus gave up all rights to honor and respect, and choose the path that led to his humiliation and suffering death.
Just as the historic disciples desired honor, so do we. This is maybe the most difficult thing for me. I so keenly feel the pain of being slighted, even when it is done unintentionally. These moments come when Pastor Jeff and I arrive at some church event. He gets greeted with, “I’m so glad you’re here, Pastor” and I might get a “Hi, Liz.” Or when I got introduced as the pastor’s wife in the congregation to which I have been called. I long for recognition of my role and my work, and so I understand those disciples who were horrified when Jesus stripped down. Jesus took off his status, left behind his right to glory, and took the position of a slave. And then he called the disciples, and calls us, to follow his example of humility as we love.
“Love one another.” Jesus says this to disciples who will betray and abandon him. Jesus loves them, knowing he will not get the benefit of their love when he most needs it.
It is difficult to love those who don’t love us back. I think of the work of parents during those sometimes very long teenage years. They try to love youths who scream their hatred, slam doors in anger, and disobey. Their love doesn’t seem to get any response. Parents are called to love the ones who reject them.
Jesus sat at the table with his disciples, knowing who would betray him to those who wished to kill him, knowing who would run away in fear at his arrest, knowing who would deny ever knowing him. For these disciples, Jesus took a loaf of bread and a cup of wine, giving thanks, passing them around, declaring, “this is my body, this is my blood, given for you.” Jesus looks into the eyes of each person who will not love him, and still declares that he will prove his love for them by dying for them.
Jesus loves by giving of himself. We hear tonight from First Corinthians words that we hear every Sunday as we gather around the table for communion. Jesus takes bread and wine, blesses and gives them to his disciples, declaring these simple foods to be his body and blood, which is given to them and to us as a gift of love, forgiveness, and life. When the disciples first hear these words, they do not know the extent to which Jesus’ body will be broken and his blood shed. When we hear these words, we know what Jesus has done for us. After the shared meal, Jesus will go out, will be met with an angry mob, will go through a sham of a trial, and will be publicly executed.
Jesus loves with the full knowledge of our sin. Jesus shares bread and wine, serves at the feet of the disciples, knowing that one will betray him unto death, one will deny and curse him, and all will abandon him in his most difficult hours. He loves through the hurts he will suffer at the hands of those he loves. Think of the relationships in your life. Have any of them included a great betrayal? Unfaithfulness? Backstabbing? Rejection? If you could go back in time, would you still choose to love that one at the beginning? I don’t think we always would. Because of the outcome, we might wish we had never met the one who would end up hurting us. But Jesus loves from beginning to end, knowing each betrayal and rejection. How often have you been able to love that one through the hurt?
Jesus’ last and most important command is to love. Our fulfillment of this commandment will declare to the world that we are Jesus’ disciples. Jesus calls his followers to love each other as they have been loved by him. Our love for others bears witness to Jesus. When we act in love, especially when most people would act otherwise, we show others that there is something different about our lives. That gives us the opportunity to speak about the one who gives us the power to love.
Jesus teaches you to love by first loving you. Jesus loves us first. Jesus loves you, knowing that you will not always uphold this commandment, to love others. Especially this week, Holy Week, our worship centers around Jesus’ declaration of love for you. Jesus gives all of himself, his very body and blood, his life, to love you. That’s how important it is to him that you know and receive his love.
These holiest of days recount the most striking examples of Jesus enacting this love. We began on Sunday with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, joining the crowds as they first welcome Jesus, and then reject him, ending our worship with Jesus’ death, a result of our shouts for his crucifixion. Through all the inconstancy of the crowd, Jesus remains faithful to his mission to prove his love. Tonight we have the opportunity to experience this love of Jesus in new and fuller ways that we usually do when we gather for worship. Tonight, you each have the opportunity to hear, feel, and taste Jesus’ love for you: in assurance of forgiveness, in water that calls to mind Jesus’ humility for your sake, in bread and wine, Jesus’ life poured out to give you life. Jesus provides us with a feast, and empowers us to fulfill a new commandment. Tomorrow, we remember that Jesus is God, come to earth, in human form: God who chooses to experience the deepest rejection and despair. In Jesus’ death on the cross, Jesus declares he will do everything to show his love for all. On Saturday, we find ourselves in the great story of God’s life-giving action, God’s love letter, written for us. The culmination of God’s work to love the creation occurs at Jesus’ resurrection, as we hear God’s triumph over sin and death. Through these days, Jesus declares to you: “I love you.”
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