Just over a month ago, Christians around the world gathered to hear this passage that we just heard from John’s gospel. They sat in large cathedrals and simple rooms, and heard this call of love – this new commandment, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”
When I heard this reading last month I was in a small Anglican church in downtown Toronto, it was almost filled to capacity with people that represented the true diversity of the city -- students and seniors, people with various gender identities, a diversity of cultures and backgrounds, members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community, people with varying levels of physical ability, street people and the 1%. Many of us did not look alike, or sound alike; we did not have the same experiences in life, nor would we all return to the same comforts and luxuries when we returned home. But for that time of worship, when we sat with each other in that small sanctuary, we were united by the call of Jesus Christ to love each other – wildly and unconditionally – and so we did. We humbled ourselves before each other and we kneeled and lovingly washed each other’s feet and had our own feet washed – we shared together a simple meal of bread and wine – we prayed with one another for our world, our community, for each other, and for ourselves. Strangers, friends, family; professors, lawyers, prostitutes, and drug addicts all became united in the life and love of Jesus Christ. We truly heard and acted out the call, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”
It was of course, Maundy Thursday, and this story in John’s gospel is the “Manudy” part of that day – Maundy refers to that new commandment of love. On that evening in Toronto, it was my profound wish that our gathering had indeed changed the whole world – “Love one another, as I have loved you, by this everyone will know that you are my disciples,” I wished that as those words poured out from Jesus, about to be betrayed, about to be crucified – I prayed that those words had impacted each one of us that sat in that room who heard, remembered, and celebrated the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. But it didn’t.
I left that sanctuary that evening with such a feeling of the Holy Spirit’s presence; so sure that those words had finally become etched permanently upon my heart, but I’m positive that as I walked to the subway station the next morning I passed by homeless people that I had worshiped alongside just hours previously without giving them a second glance. I boarded the subway and mumbled under my breath as I saw the only free seat being taken up by someone’s backpack; I was not interested in loving my neighbour, I was interested in myself, my own comforts, my own needs – I’m sure I was not alone. We all hear these words, we all strive to live up to these words, to live out these words, to embody these words – but when it comes down to it, we fail to love each other. Truly living out the call of Jesus Christ is difficult.
Today, on this Fifth Sunday of Easter, we hear this passage again – and as I read it this week I was amazed at Jesus’ strength of character in this passage. Judas had just left to betray him to the Roman authorities, Jesus had announced that he knows that Peter will deny him three times. It would be perfectly reasonable for Jesus to give a lengthy speech about the consequences of evil, about loyalty – but instead, Jesus gives us this new commandment. In the face of certain death and abandonment by his friends, Jesus gives us this, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”
How I wish these words would penetrate all of humanity. Day after day I continue to be dismayed at the growing divisions and polarizations in our world. I look around and I see laws being enacted by states that oppress the rights of women, stating that they are protecting the sanctity of all life, while later that day those same states execute prisoners on death row. I see people saying that Canada should have allowed more people fleeing the Nazis in World War II to come to Canada, while also stating that those who are currently fleeing from genocide and war in their own countries should “go back to where they came from.” I see a world where we are becoming increasingly afraid of people who look, speak, and act, differently than we do, just because we do not understand. And in particular, my struggle with these situations is the lack of compassion, consideration, and love. What is our role as Christians and people of faith in this increasingly divisive world? Have we not heard the call of Jesus Christ to “Love one another, as [he] has loved us?” Have we not heard? Or do we simply not care? // The theologian D.A. Carlson puts it best, “this new commandment is simple enough for a toddler to memorize and appreciate, and it is profound enough that the most mature believers are repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice.”
It is easy for us to brush that off though, we can say that we are different. We can have the attitude that we think differently – that we are above that type of thought and behaviour. We can say that our church is different, that we are welcoming. But if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we are not perfect either. We, too, have boundaries, structures, and attitudes that prevent us from fully living out that call to “Love one another” – so where on earth do we start?
There was a small city in the Midwestern United States that was experiencing a massive issue with poverty. So the local churches in the area decided to do something about it. Congregations came up with a plan and there were concerts, dinners, fundraisers of all sorts put together to raise money for those that were in need. The congregations each struck a committee from its membership to decide how to use the money that had been raised – some thought that a community centre was needed, others resources for the food bank, some decided they would buy gifts cards to distribute. All good ideas. Every congregation raised money and decided what to do with it, except for one. The members of the smallest congregation decided to forgo all of this, instead they took their own money and went to the local pizzeria and bought an incredible amount of pizza. Then they took it into the area of town where people were struggling, and they went to peoples homes, they sat on the sidewalks, and they shared food and talked to the people who were in need. They actually asked them, “What do you need?” rather than assuming that they knew what was best for them. They embodied the ministry style of Jesus Christ, who sat with all kinds of different people and shared a meal. They took this idea of loving one another, loving their neighbours seriously – this church became known for their way of love.
It’s a simple command, to love, and I hope that everyone in this room this morning has truly known what means to be loved. That is what this is about, it is Jesus’ reminding us of how much he loves us – and of how much God loves us – and because of that love, we might be empowered to love others, extending God’s love through word and deed, and in this way love others as Jesus has loved us. We don’t have to do it perfectly to do it meaningfully. Even as we remember those who have loved us, we can probably acknowledge that while their love was not perfect, its impact was powerful.
Jesus said, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” And that is what we are called to do. That is who we are called to be. To be powerful in our way of love. We do not have to do it perfectly, but we must strive to do our utmost. Throughout history human beings have made mistakes, and frankly, some terrible choices, and in our own lives we have made mistakes, too. We have failed to live up to that call to follow in the way of love. However, if we actually engage with Jesus’ New Commandment, if we do our utmost, if we actually begin to live as Jesus has taught us, if we truly have those words etched on our hearts, then we will be known for that. As Jesus’ said, “everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
So let us show love in the way that we care for our planet, not abusing resources and having dominion over it, but instead being good stewards of God’s creation.
Let us show love in how we respect all human beings, regardless of age, gender identity, health, race, sexual orientation, differing abilities, or economic circumstance. Let us love each and every beloved child of God for who they are.
Let us show love by giving from our abundance and privilege to lift up and empower others in our world.
Let us show love by making sure that women have the right to control their own bodies, and dismantling patriarchal structures that view them as inferior, rather than as equal and immeasurably valuable.
Let us love by welcoming those who are different from us, by engaging with the refugee and the stranger, encountering the unknown through dialogue and compassion, as Jesus would have us do.
Let us love by doing what is right, what is good, what is just, what is true; let us love by truly living out Jesus’ commandment to “love one another, as [he] has loved us.”
In this world of divide and division, let us walk hand in hand with one another, working in love to encourage and build everyone up in unity. Let us show our love for one another. Let us be known as Jesus desired us to be known: as individuals, as a community, as a church – may we be known by our love. Let us love, because Jesus Christ first loved us.
For that Good News. Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Amen.