Revelation 21:1-6 – John 13:31-35
The Rev. Helen Havlik – Easter 6 – May 26, 2019
Easter is about God doing something new that’s also eternal. Jesus gets his disciples ready for this new “thing” by gathering them all for their last meal together. He begins the festivities by washing their feet. He talks about the person who’s going to betray him. And after Judas leaves, Jesus turns to the remaining disciples and for the next four chapters of John speaks to them about what will happen and what he expects them to do. Jesus reminds them that the key to living the new life he brings is based on one thing only. I’m reading from John, ch. 13, beginning with vs. 31. Listen with me to God’s holy word.
So Jesus gathers his brood together like a mother hen and gives them his final words. It’s the night of his betrayal. They’ve gathered for a Passover meal. And Jesus shocks them all by tying a towel around his waist and washing their dirty feet himself. He literally shows them one more time how they are to behave once he’s gone—not arguing over who’s in charge, but serving each other as he has served them. As the meal continues, he reminds them he’s going to die. He doesn’t say die exactly: he’s focused more on what happens after his death—the way his death will glorify God. Jesus is encouraging them and even if they don’t understand right away what he says, they’ll have his final words to hang onto later when the going is toughest.
At this memorable parting scene, Jesus gives them a new commandment—probably not new in the sense of them loving where they hadn’t loved before, but in making it now their number one priority. Jesus tells them that God’s love literally will continue to be seen in the world after his death when the disciples show that love for each other. “For God so loved the world…” is to be lived out in the relationships they have with each other. Jesus had shown them and would show them just how much love God has for this world and everyone in it, as Ch. 13 begins, “Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world…. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.” As Jesus loves those disciples, so too are they to love each other—even to the point of giving up their lives for others to live. Such love isn’t easy to talk about, much less do. If we look at the very next line after our reading, Peter already has changed the subject. “Yes, Lord, that’s all very nice about loving each other, but where are you going?” Peter seems not to have a clue about what Jesus is saying—at least at that moment.
And, even now, do we understand? Do we understand the kind of love that takes the log out of my own eye first—the kind of love that accepts people for who they are—the kind of love that makes sacrifices, even dies so that others will live? Can such love really be commanded? Yet Jesus commands his disciples—and us—to love one another in that way. The word “commandment” may sound too strong if we think of love in terms of how we feel. But what if the love Jesus talks about isn’t an emotion? What if it’s not what we feel but what we do? What if love is the way God acts toward the world and the way Jesus acts toward the disciples? What if Jesus is interested not in how we feel about each other but how we act toward and on behalf of each other? What if his whole point was introducing us to a new way of loving and inviting us to live it? And what would happen if we all lived that way?
Jump ahead a few years to John’s Revelation where we read, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” All of life begins with God and ends with God and everything in between belongs to God and is in God’s hands. And in God’s hands, all things are made new. Especially how we live our lives—how we live our pain and suffering, love and joy. We are not alone—God suffers with us, God rejoices with us. God dwells with us in all of life—God came to us in Christ who suffers with and for us. It’s amazing to me, but there it is in our first reading—God’s dwelling is (present tense) with people and God, like a loving grandma, will reach over with a tissue and dab at our tears and pull us toward her in a healing embrace. It’s amazing to think of, but “these words are trustworthy and true”—we have it by the authority of the cross. On this Memorial Day Sunday, we remember the Lord’s death for our sakes, and we remember and hope for his new life, in which we share. Our pain is real, but the hope that begins and ends with God, gives it a new dimension. John’s words also remind us that our hope isn’t just for the future but is a promise for the here and now. Christ’s work doesn’t just promise a place in heaven later, but a taste of heaven now—that’s what he’s talking about with his disciples at dinner—the love he has for them that they echo in loving each other is what the new heaven and new earth look like.
Everyone will know who you are, Jesus says, by the way you treat each other. In living the new life by loving one another, we share the gospel in a visible way with the rest of the world, pointing others to Jesus. When it comes to any congregation’s life, loving each other matters more than our size or our programs or our style or how we advertise. People come to a church, according to David L. Hansen, because they are looking for some sign from us churchgoers that we “get” what Jesus is saying about loving God and loving neighbor. And that as we try to live that love, our lives are changed: we’re more loving, kinder, more merciful. (“Why don’t people come to Church?” The Lutheran, December 2012) In other words, the people around us are looking for the fruit of the Spirit in us. That in loving God and neighbor, we are becoming what we say we believe: loving, joyful, patient, peaceful, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, self-controlled. In ancient Rome, someone said about Christians, “see how they love one another!” And the church grew because of it. Our words are important, but actions speak louder than words—right? Love is an action that speaks louder than our words. As we keep loving one another, even in the smallest of acts, we bring hope to each other—we bring hope to the world. By living the new life, we are helping to create the new heaven and new earth.