The Commandment of Love – May 5, 2013
Isaiah 43:1-7, John 15:1-17
May 5, 2013
Were backtracking a little bit today. We’re going back before Easter, back before Good Friday. We’re going back to the time in the Upper Room where Jesus is having his last meal with his disciples.
I think you’ll agree, they had come a long way together. It had been three years since these disciples started traveling around with this new rabbi, and they had heard him say and do a lot of amazing things! Now they had come with him to Jerusalem, the hot bed of the controversy surrounding him. They had warned him against it. But Jesus was determined to go. It seemed to be his mission – his destiny.
Now they had shared with him the Passover meal. And that was the most important ceremony in a Jews life. Passover was the story of how God saved them in what is now our Old Testament. And it was the story through which he made his covenant with them, and gave them their Commandments – their Torah. The Passover was a celebration of that which defined them as a people.
Now, amazingly, Jesus had just used the symbols of the Passover meal to give these men a new definition of who they were to be. He said, no longer would those things be the symbols of the salvation of the people of old, from then on, “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, they will be for you my body and blood.” Now, remember, these were good Jewish boys! And I don’t think it’s possible for us to understand how deeply that ceremony was engrained in their lives, or how shocking it was for Jesus to change the meaning of those symbols! But he wasn’t finished yet!
In John’s gospel we have a more complete rendering of the dialogue in the Upper Room. And I think that’s because John saw Jesus’ words that night as important enough to record more completely. And one of the things he recorded were the words we find a page or so before our reading, where Jesus said, “A new Commandment I give unto you, that you love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)
A new Commandment? Could Jesus really mean that? All that Passover jazz was shocking enough, but was he actually adding another commandment to the Ten? Was he that audacious? Apparently so! He even used their terms. And, he even went so far as to make this new commandment the thing that would define who they were like the Torah of old! He said, “By this everybody will know that you are mine, if you love one another.” (John 13:36)
The more I think about that, the more I believe John was trying to give us the impact of those words. And later on the church actually would pick up on the importance of this. They would come to mark this event by using the Latin word for commandment, the word “Maundatum,” from which we get the word “mandate.” When they set out the liturgical calendar, they didn’t call this “The Day of the First Communion,” or “The Day of the Last Supper.” That would have been fine. But instead, they chose to call it “The Day of the New Commandment.” “The Thursday of the ‘Maundatum.'” Or as we have come to know it, “Maundy Thursday.”
It was that important! “From then on,” Jesus said, “love would define who they were!” And I’m going back to this passage for today because all that we’ve celebrated throughout Lent and Easter is what defines us as Gods people. And here, through this new commandment, Jesus gave us that which defines us, too. “By this everyone will know you are mine, if you love one another.” Or, as the old song says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our Love.” That’s a great old song. And this is where it comes from!
So, will they? This is not easy, my friends! We might think it is because too often we have an easy definition of what love is. Like those sentimental coffee mugs and plaques, (that I despise!) we think “Love is a warm fuzzy feeling.” But Jesus would beg to differ! In our passage for today he said, “There’s no greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” That, of course, defined who Jesus was. And he asks that great love of us! Wow!
There is no mistaking here that the context of this commandment of love took place, not in words spoken to the crowd on the mountain, but in the upper room. It took place in the context of Jesus imminent demonstration of that love – his sacrifice. We cannot forget that context!
So, do you see what a tall order this is? And that’s not to say that all love involves that ultimate sacrifice. The way we treat each other day to day – the way we choose to treat each other – the way we choose to think of others rather than ourselves, also defines who we are. But the depth of love was forever defined by Jesus’ words here. “No greater love,” he said. Thats now the upper end of the spectrum for all of us! And of course Jesus makes it even tougher by saying, “If you love me, you will keep my commandment!”
However, sometimes those great acts of self-sacrificial love are not the hard part. We’re ok with doing that kind of thing. Sometimes the hardest part of this isn’t the greater love. Sometimes the harder part is the lesser love. Isn’t that true? Sometimes it’s the little every day love that we mess up the most. You know what I mean. Those little lapses in which our selfish side comes out, those little unkind words, the thoughtless reaction in the moment, those little annoyances with each other that catch us off guard They can be the hardest part of this, can’t they? And unfortunately, i’ts also those failures in every day love that end up defining us. And that can be the hardest truth to hear. Can you sing the song and know it.s true about you?
Let me ask you this. Do you think those disciples all got along famously all the time? We know they didn’t. The Gospels show us, along with everything else, that they were human! For example, when James and John asked Jesus if they could sit beside him in his kingdom, what are we are told about the others? “They were indignant.” They were peeved! The Bible doesn’t use that word, but I wonder what other words the translators could have used!
Actually, just getting them all to get along in the first place was pretty amazing. Think about it! Jesus chose as one of his disciples this man called Simon the Zealot. And the Zealots were a group of people who wanted to overthrow Roman rule by any means! And he also chose Matthew the tax collector, a hated collaborator and traitor who worked for Rome! I often wonder how those two men got along!
But even if they were all wonderfully compatible people, do you think 12 men living and working together closely wouldn’t sometimes get on one another’s nerves? I’m sure they did! Someone once said, “The best way to get people to be upset with one another is to get them to live together!”
So let me ask you. Are there times when you irritate or frustrate those closest to you? Should I ask that question of your spouses, your parents, or your siblings? Love is not easy! Especially the every day love. Love is not simply “A warm fuzzy feeling.” And it doesn’t happen all by itself! Love is the choice to treat one another with respect and caring every day! Sometimes we forget that. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves how much we love each other!
In reading this story and remembering the old song I think we need to strive to remember that the way we love and treat one another is “How people will know we belong to Jesus.” Whether we like it or not, we represent him in that way. Sometimes you hear a sports figure say, “Hey, I didn’t get into this sport to be a role model.” “Well, too bad! You are, whether you want to be or not! Thats the nature of the game!” And its the same with us. We are Christ’s ambassadors – for good or for bad – whether we want to be or not! And love is the key!
There’s a legend about John. He was the only one of the Apostles to die of old age – the others were put to death for the faith! And in time a community grew up around John, much like the Essene community that preserved the Dead Sea Scrolls. Well, when John was very old, and could hardly walk, every once in a while the people in that community would ask him to speak. And when he agreed, He would totter to the front of the crowd, and say only one thing. “Little children, love one another.” Now, I dont know if that’s true, but it would make sense reading his writings! That theme comes up again and again in his gospel and his letters. And it’s a great thought, isn’t it? And came from this moment, sitting with the others in the upper room, listening to Jesus talking about the new commandment “the commandment of love.”
And so I leave you today with his words. “Little children, love one another.”
Eternal God, Help us to love one another as Jesus called us to. Help us to choose to look beyond the self and to uphold and upbuild each other. May the world indeed know that we are yours by the way we love. Grant us the strength, through your Holy Spirit, that we may have the strength we need to do that. For this we pray in Jesus name, Amen.