As I have loved you – Easter 5
John 13.31-35 Acts 11.1-18
We all have different reactions to new things. The words “New shoes”, are always music to my ears, but probably less joyfully heard by the bank manager ( if he or she even exists these days!)
For others, its new technology, a shiny new gadget…
Or a new book, and the prospect of a good read.
Maybe you prefer the old & familiar, the comfortable walking boots you’ve had for years, or the saggy old sofa ( I have to confess, I have a couple of those, and you couldn’t persuade me to get new ones!)
But what about new ideas, new ways of doing things?
In our Gospel reading today we’re back in those hours before Good Friday, Jesus & his disciples are celebrating the Passover – a meal with its roots in the beginnings of the Jewish faith, a meal which represents history and tradition,
Community and cohesion and celebration
And in the midst of all this “looking back” Jesus says to his friends
“A NEW commandment I give you,”
He’d already turned things on their head when he took the role of a servant at the start of the meal and washed the feet of those with him.
Now he talks to them, about what that had begun to signify
Love one another –
But more than that
As I have loved you, love one another..
So he commands, and at the same time teaches – he gives them an example to follow
This love he’s taking about is not abstract or nebulous
Its not a nice feeling or a concept that everyone can philosophise about
Love one another – as I have loved you.
Its inherently practical, and radical, because was not living his life in a way that was old & comfy and familiar, like my beloved sofa
He was turning things round, and starting to make people think.
*this* is how you will be known as my disciples..
Not because you speak like me, or defend my teaching or build structures and organisations
This is how you will be know.. because you love one another – as I have loved you.
Down the years this challenge comes to us too.
Even now 2000 years later, this commandment of Jesus is still new & radical in our world of self, and self interest.
Loving as Jesus loved is not a comfortable place to be,
-How *did* he love? What is our example?
1) He loved individually:
Each of his disciples was called for themselves –Jesus drew each one of them to him in different ways and for different reasons. He knew them all, and knew their stories. He used their names – he challenged them not in general but from where they were. Whether they were mending fishing nets, or collecting taxes for the Romans, he met them where they were and called them to follow him.
He knew them, as people, as names, as his friends, he knew them as individuals.
Perhaps this is a challenge to us. Do we know people for themselves, or are they “ the school children” or “ the young mums” or “ the older people”
Do we make the effort to find out ? to break through stereo types? Do we look at others as Jesus did, individuals, dearly loved ?
2) Jesus loved inclusively:
There were no barriers to the way Jesus loved those around him, and it didn’t gain him friends or influence! His immediate disciples included fishermen, political activists, a thief & traitor, a tax official – they would have come from all social strata, and all sorts of experiences.
He got himself into trouble with the authorities & self appointed arbiters of “ rightness” by mixing with people of dubious morality, party animals and drinkers, prostitutes and foreigners, he treated women as equals and didn’t stand on ceremony with anyone because eof their rank or job or family background.
He had a no holds barred no barriers love for those around him.
Radical and inclusive, this is how Jesus loved, and how we are called to. No one was left out, no one was considered wrong or too sinful, too poor, too messed up, too smelly or too disturbed.
Love your enemies –turn the other cheek. Even those who we find hard to love, those who wind us up, those who make us angry because of their behaviour to us or to others, all of these too Jesus loved.
no one was excluded from his love.
Can we say that about our churches and communities?
Can we say that in our own lives? I know I can’t, but this is how Jesus loved and how he commands us to.
3) Jesus loved practically:
The Gospels are threaded through with practical examples of Jesus’s love & care.
The physical reality of his love
Starting with the miracle of water into wine at the wedding, its continues in that vein..
Feeding the crowds,
healing the sick. Making sure those he healed , or indeed raised from the dead, had food –Peters’ Mother in law and Jairus’s daughter for example
Practical arrangements for the Passover meal
Fish on the beach after the resurrection
It doesn’t seem to me any coincidence that so many of these are connected with food & feeding.
Like the Jewish community in which he grew up, for Jesus feeding was an important way of showing love, practically and symbolically.
Right at the heart of our faith and our imperative to love each other, is the amazing practical and powerful gift of food.
At this same meal where Jesus is commanding his disciples to love, he also institutes the very meal by which we remember him and meet him here each week. The Mass, the Eucharist lies at the heart of our faith, our expression of love and our mission,
It is no coincidence at all that in our reading from Acts, when God wants to speak to Peter about the way everyone is to be included in the community regardless of their ethnic or religious origin, he starts by giving him a vision of food – food is so central to our community life – to our family life – we gather around tables to celebrate, to mourn, to care, to argue & debate. The radical inclusivity that the new born church is called to model and live is symbolised in food – shared, without boundaries
From the humblest value rich tea biscuit to a full on banquet, we offer each other food to show our love.
Its central to our identity and our make up as human beings –
Our God given God created humanity –which Jesus shared, recognises this need to feed each other.
In his life on earth Jesus fed us,
In the Eucharist he continues to feed us withhis very self,
From this table we are sent out, fed By the Body of Christ to BE the body of Christ, the body to feed those around us.
Spiritualy, practically.. inclusively , individually, totally
This is what it means to Love as he has loved us.
Few years ago I read a book which really deserves the label life changing –
I know Simon has read it and has very similar opinions on it too, so you may well have heard about it already, but Id like to read to you a short passage from “ Take this bread” the story of a woman’s life transformed by being fed by Jesus in the Eucharist –and her very practical outworking, as she was called to feed those around her.
It may seem deluded to assert that people can still be fed with this ordinary yet mystical bread, so besmirched and exhausted and poisoned by centuries of religious practice, in ways that will change our own real lives, not to mention the world, for the better. But this is my belief: that at the heart of Christianity is a power that continues to speak to and transform us. As I found to my surprise and alarm, it could speak even to me: not in the sappy, Jesus-and-cookies tone of mild-mannered liberal Christianity, or the blustering, blaming hellfire of the religious right. What I heard, and continue to hear, is a voice that can crack religious and political convictions open, that advocates for the least qualified, least official, least likely; that upsets the established order and makes a joke of certainty. It proclaims against reason that the hungry will be fed, that those cast down will be raised up, and that all things, including my own failures, are being made new. It offers food without exception to the worthy and unworthy, the screwed-up and pious, and then commands everyone to do the same. It doesn’t promise to solve or erase suffering but to transform it, pledging that by loving one another, even through pain, we will find more life. And it insists that by opening ourselves to strangers, the despised or frightening or unintelligible other, we will see more and more of the holy, since, without exception, all people are one body: God’s.
Love One another, as I have loved you
Just 8 words, easy to say, or to sing,
But within them, is the most powerful, and most radical way to live our lives.
To take this seriously is to begin to change the world we live in, and to change ourselves.
It is to turn our selfish notions of love and community on their heads
It is to practice a radical , inclusive practical way of living,
A way of living we simply cannot manage in our own strength and by ourselves –
But when we gather round the table,
And we feed on him to gave his life for us, so that we might live.
When we group as his family , his body and take strength from him and each other
Then we can turn to the world, and offer them this same love.
Take this bread,
Feed my sheep
Love one another.
This is not an exclusive meal for a chosen few –
This is the heart of Gods love for us, abundant generous and inclusive –
Let us let it transform us, and through us transform our world..