Reflection on the Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 14:21-27 Revelation 21:1-5 John 13:31-35
In today’s passage from John’s Gospel, Jesus is at the Passover table with his disciples. It is his final meal with them, and he says to them, “I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.”
He says it is new, but there are similar passages in all three of the synoptic Gospels, all of them echoing the law given in Deuteronomy long before. “The most important commandment is this:] Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
Yet there has ever been a problem in that ancient command: The way we love is not a good example. Sometimes we don’t love ourselves very well. In the middle of a disagreement with someone, I feel bad about myself. I don’t love myself in those moments. I am like that generally; I measure out love to myself and others according to behavior. My love is nearly always conditional. Perhaps it is like that for you, too.
At the Passover table, just hours before his death, Jesus was urging the disciples, and us, to stop using ourselves as a measure of love and look instead at how he has been loving. Look at how he has talked, how he listened; look at his care and compassion, at his teaching and the manner of his teaching. Look at the whole of Jesus’ life. In the end, Jesus will accept even death for those he loves. But I think maybe Jesus’s new commandment is not about what comes at the end, but about how he has loved in life, and continues to love in his risen life and in us.
“Love one another as I have loved you.” Looking at the whole of Jesus’ life, listening to his words, we get a glimpse that his way of loving comes from the one who sent him, is what we can expect from the one who sent him — love that is absolutely unconditional. There is nothing you or I can do that will make God love us less. Love as simple and total as that is so uncomplicated and good!
And it’s not easy.
Jesus offers his disciples and us his way of loving as both an example and as a reality, a gift for us. John’s Passover passage doesn’t include Jesus offering bread and wine as his body to the disciples. However, Jesus’ words, “love one another as I have loved you,” echo those other words, “take, eat and drink of my body, given for you.” Jesus’ new commandment stands in place of the Eucharist, as the very same gift with the very same message: It is not easy to love as Jesus loves, but it is possible. We have nourishment for that possibility as we gather this morning. In these gifts of word and table, Jesus’ way of loving continues as an example for us, as a reality in us, just for today.