This is the sermon I preached this Sunday at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The gospel text is John 13:31-35.We hear these words every Maundy Thursday in Holy Week. Jesus has just washed his disciples’ feet, including Judas’. Judas has departed from the others so he could betray Jesus. On the heels of this, Jesus says NOW he’s been glorified. We have again one of those circuitous, seemingly convoluted statements about Jesus being glorified, the Father being glorified in him and so on.
Now to the crux of today’s message. What does Jesus mean by “a new commandment?” Elsewhere, we hear about the need to love one another and others in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. What’s new about that? There’s an additional piece Jesus brings into this commandment; a further lens through which to view love. “…as I have loved you…love one another” (v. 34). The newness is a “new” understanding.
What does Jesus’ love toward his disciples look like? We see a small piece of it in the way Jesus addresses his disciples. He calls them, “Little children” (v. 33). Jesus expresses his affection toward his followers. He once again tries to prepare them for his departure, explaining he will be with them “only a little longer” (v. 33).
Ultimately, Jesus goes to the cross, laying down his life for his friends. That’s the kind of love that goes to the mat for each other. We may or may not be called to die for each other, but sometimes relationships with those we love most can rub us raw, causing one thousand tiny deaths.
How did Jesus love? Generously. Outrageously. In a way that gives life.
Wherever the word, “love,” appears in John’s gospel, we should understand it as “attachment, commitment, and loyalty.” Love may include feelings of affection, liking and attraction, but these are not the primary meaning in the world at Jesus’ time.
Jesus’ departure is not an ending of his commitment to his followers. “Jesus loves them completely, finally, forever” (Malina, p. 219).
Without Jesus’ physical presence, how will others be able to tell that we are his disciples? Realizing that his “little children” will be like sheep without a shepherd, Jesus teaches his followers that they must transfer their love for him to one another. More precisely, they should NOT love each other as they have loved him. Instead, they should love each other as HE has loved them.
It would be easier if we were to love each other as we love Jesus. After all, we don’t do that very well. We would be letting our behavior be the norm instead of letting Jesus set the standard; letting Jesus set the example.
The identifying mark of disciples is to love one another as Jesus loves us because it is the tangible sign of the disciples’ abiding in Jesus (15:10). We are to have a special love towards our brothers and sisters in the faith. We are to be a family to one another.
Likewise, we need to be more intentional in declaring our unity and solidarity with Christians throughout the world, whether in Ukraine, Russia or the Holy Land. Should we be more connected with Palestinian Christians than with Jewish Israelis? American Christians show little outrage when the Israelis persecute these fellow believers and forbid them from going to work or to church. The ELCA has a project called Peace, Not Walls that aids people in standing with their Christian family in the Holy Land. We are members of the same faith family. Shouldn’t we stand with our faith family members in Ukraine whose homes are bulldozed by Russians? We have stood with our brothers and sisters by giving through Lutheran World Relief and other agencies.
Love and obedience to God flow out of relationship and communion with Christ. We may imperfectly incarnate love ourselves, but the goal is that love is the essence of who we are and what we do. To love as Christ, is to love in a way that is strong, enduring and faithful. We, too, will love to the end. Such love is steadfast, unshakable from the primary task of expressing itself actively, drawing from God’s boundless supply. We cannot do this on our own, but God’s Spirit working in us will accomplish all that pleases God and helps our faith family.
Tertullian, a prolific early Christian author, wrote that outsiders said of Christians, “See how they love one another,” testifying to Christian care for the poor, the sick and the dying. In this way, God is glorified in and through us.
David Ewart, holytextures.com
Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John
O’Day, New Interpreter’s Bible: John
Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com