In John chapter 13, Jesus doesn’t just want us to talk about love. Jesus wants to see it, hear it, feel it in our fellowship. It is a love that Christians should be famous for, that Christian should be synonymous with. Jesus said and demonstrated it every day of his life and even in his death. Why can’t we?
I love you. Three words that we want to hear from parents, spouses and significant others, toddlers and willful teenagers. I love you. These three words seal the deal, make real our commitment to another and communicate the seriousness of our relationship. Whether romantic or familial love, its expression deepens the bond shared.
But, what of loving our neighbor next door and moving more closely, those we share our faith life with? Love as a practice of discipleship, unconditional love, is what we are to offer. Not this take it or leave it love, this if and when I feel like it love, this if the stars align and the mood is right kind of love, this if you do what I say temperamental love.
Instead, we are invited to love authentically where we are and as we are until we become who Christ calls us to be. We are called to love tenderly, specifically, unflinchingly, unapologetically. We are taught by Christ to love indiscriminately and until the very end. We are to love each other as siblings, and we don’t get to choose our family. C.S. Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.” Still, Alfred Tennyson says, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
Christ’s hands on the cross, extending and yet bringing us together, he becomes the supreme matchmaker. He says that we all belong to each other, that God made us for one another, that we are a perfect fit. His hands on the cross show the breadth of this acceptance and the depth of his commitment. He will go to the grave, proving this love. Paul Tillich said, “Love manifests its greatest power there where it overcomes the greatest separation.”[i] Bridging time and eternity, our sin and God’s righteousness, Jesus demonstrates the sovereignty of his love.
Maundy Thursday is the first day of remembrance services leading up to the resurrection. Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum, from which we get the word mandate, and means commandment. As captured in John’s gospel, it is a reminder of the new commandment Jesus’ gave his disciples.
John says that Judas has left the building. In response, Jesus says, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.” Not matter what happens or how tough it gets, it is all for God’s glory. Nothing personal but deeply spiritual, Judas’ betrayal signals that Jesus’ time with the disciples is running out.
Jesus says to his disciples, “Gather ‘round, children; we don’t have much time together. I cannot take you with me. So, let me leave this with you.” Jesus wants to tell them something new: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another.”
“Just as I have loved you”– through thick and thin, sink or swim, no matter what it takes, I am all in.
This is all that matters to Jesus. This is what he expects from his disciples. It is a kind of dying wish and all that he has to give. His legacy is love.
Jesus is the model of tough love. On the cross, his love will take a beating, be buried and still get up with arms extended. As his disciples, we are called to do the same.
[i] Paul Tillich, Love, Power and Justice, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1954), 25.