Love as God loves is commanded on you tonight; this same divine love is modeled for you and planted within you to bear into the world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Text: John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“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.”
This commandment names today. “Maundy” is Middle English for “mandatum,” Latin for “command.” This is “Commandment Thursday,” the night we are commanded to love as God has loved us in Christ. So every year we return to these eight days from Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to the empty tomb, and walk with Christ through this week to learn what “love as I loved you” really means.
Tomorrow when we stand before the cross, we witness the deepest, truest love.
God reveals the truth about the universe at the cross: love that gives itself away restores life, reconciles, brings healing, so when the eternal and Triune God offers the very life of God for love of the world, all things are restored, the universe is changed.
“I give you a new commandment,” Jesus said. “Love one another like this.” And therein lies our problem. It is likely none of us will be crucified. Most, if not all, of us won’t literally lay down our life for another person, die for them.
So how can we love with the love we see at the cross? On this Night of the Commandment, we begin to see.
We first see Love on its knees, serving others.
This powerful sight of the Son of God, kneeling half-naked like a slave, washing the dirty feet of his followers, grounds Jesus’ new commandment. You don’t have to know the master-slave culture of the first century to understand how radical this was. The fact that so many congregations today still resist doing footwashing reveals how distasteful the whole scene is.
That’s why Jesus says tonight, “Do you know what I have done to you?”
Do you? You may never offer your physical life and die for someone. But Jesus shows you the path of Christ-love begins on your knees before others, offering your life as service.
That’s harder than the hypothetical “maybe someday I’ll give my life for someone.” Giving your life every day in service to all, that’s hard. That’s true love. And that, Jesus says, is my new commandment.
On the Mount of Olives, Love is on its knees again, sharing our fears.
If Christ-love is servant love, it’s easy to find objections. People will take advantage of you. Maybe no one will look out for your needs. You risk losing things you value. It will be inconvenient to constantly look for ways to serve others. Like that person on the entrance to the freeway. Or that family member who really doesn’t deserve it. Or that person who is always unkind to you.
It’s not the same as being nailed to a cross, but in our own small way, we have the same problem Jesus has on his knees in Gethsemane. “I would rather this cup be taken from me,” he prays. “I don’t want to do this painful thing, even if it is the only way to love this world.”
Sometimes love is on its knees asking to be taken off the hook. But once again, Jesus leads the way. “Not my will but yours be done.” That’s the movement of faith. When you let go of the objections, the concerns, the fears, and say, “I will love because that’s what you ask of me.” That’s when you see your Christ-path.
In between these two visions is the grace to make them real in your life.
On this night of betrayal, Jesus gave the disciples the meal of the life they needed to follow this new commandment. What he did that night was so powerful the newborn Church immediately started repeating it.
“Take this bread. Take this wine. Eat and drink. You are taking my very body and my blood into you for your life, your forgiveness, your healing.” That’s the gift of love in this Supper. Don’t forget these are not symbolic words. We believe Jesus: in this bread and wine Christ is actually alive and feeding you. The power of divine love inhabits these common, earthly things, and transforms them for life.
And if everyday bread and wine can be Christ’s body and blood, so can everyday people. In this meal you become the body and blood of Christ in the world, the embodiment of God’s love. That’s how you and I will keep this commandment.
Tonight Jesus says, “you don’t know now what I’m doing, but later you’ll understand.”
Maybe later is now. Understanding comes the more we watch through these days and nights with Jesus, staying awake to what Jesus is really doing and commanding.
But later can mean later, too. Understanding comes in bits and pieces. Glimpses of clarity. So we do this every year. We walk again through this with Christ and understand more. The Spirit points your eyes to new things, opens your heart to new possibilities for your love in this world.
It’s the Night of the Commandment. Stay awake, watch, and pray, and you will begin to understand this divine love that is commanded, you will see your path of Christ-love emerge.
“Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.” “Where love is, there is God.” By your being Christ and offering yourself, body and blood, life and breath, as servant to God’s creation, all will finally know the embrace of God’s love, will see God.
In the name of Jesus. Amen