Blogging ground to a stop in the last month while I was working my way through the posting process and getting my house ready to sell. I noticed that this sermon, preached on 28 April, never got posted. So, for fans of the Fifth Sunday of Easter, here’s one for you. More regular blogging should resume shortly. MP+
A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Preached Sunday, 28 April, at Christ the King Chapel, Crown Village of Ralston, CFB Suffield, AB. Lectionary texts for Year C: Acts 11: 1-18, Psalm 148, Revelation 21: 1-6, John 13: 31-45
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. 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.” (John 13: 34-35
Pick up your cross and follow me. Sell all you have and give it to the poor. Turn the other cheek. Don’t commit adultery, even in your thoughts.
Compared to these commands of Our Lord, “love one another” seems manageable. I’m not sold on turning the other cheek, but I think I can manage loving others. Especially people I like already.
If we strip the words “love one another” of whatever saccharine accretions our culture has layered onto them, we may find that this new commandment is in fact the most strenuous of them all.
To really understand what Jesus is saying here, it’s helpful to examine the context of this new commandment in John 13. In the Fourth Gospel this reading is part of John’s account of the last meal that Jesus shares with his disciples before his death. Five weeks after Easter, we return to the events of Maundy Thursday, to the charged atmosphere of the Upper Room as the disciples struggle to understand what is about to happen and what Jesus means by acts such as washing their feet.
Most commentaries note that when Jesus gives this new commandment, he has already predicted his betrayal. Judas has just left the room, just minutes before Jesus utters these words. Just after Jesus delivers this commandment, Peter promises that he will lay down his life for his master, and yet Jesus knows, and says, that Peter will deny him before the dawn comes.
So, as the commentators all point out, these words are bracketed by the sad and abrupt limits of human love. Judas, one of the inner circle, sells Jesus out. Blustering, emotional Peter can’t find the courage to live up to his promise. Human love fails, and Jesus knows it will fail when he gives this commandment.
N.T. Wright notes if we think of this commandment as just another ethical dictum, just another item in Jesus’ list of what makes a good person, we miss the point. David Lose notes all the things Jesus could say here and doesn’t: “Die with me”, “Keep the faith”, “Tell the world about me”. Nope. He just says “love one another”. He says these words with great deliberation and simplicity, because he knows that on the cross he will go to shortly, these words will be given meaning in a way that humans cannot give them meaning.
“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” The “as I have loved you” part is played out on the cross, the very meaning of John’s gospel that he points to so early on, in John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world”). This is redemptive love, and it can only come from God, who sees so clearly our limits and failures, as he saw those of Peter and Judas, and still wishes to love and save us. This love comes as a gift from God, and is given to his people to share.
Verse 35 reminds us that the gift of God’s love is one of the marks of the church: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. There may be other places where we can find people who will make us feel good about ourselves for a while. There may be places where we can do good things for one another, for a while. But the church, when it is true to its calling, is the only place where we can find the love we don’t deserve, and be reminded that it is, through God’s power, something we can offer to others whom, left to our own devices, we would might not choose to love. That’s the mission of the church.
I am sure that in the past week, you have all done something to show God’s love to others. Take a moment to recall that time, and give thanks for it. Now take a moment to recall a time in the last week when you came up short, when you could have shown God’s love to someone and didn’t. Pray about that moment, and move on with God’s help.
‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’ No, it’s not an easy commandment. It’s rather difficult, actually, just as it was difficult for our Lord in the Garden that night, as he prepared to go to the cross. But he did it, and that love, confirmed in the resurrection, is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that God gives his people. Love one another. It’s who God is. It’s who we are. Amen.