"Just as I have loved you"-Sermon for Easter 5, John 13:31-35
So, today’s Gospel lesson from John is the last five verses of our much longer Gospel reading back on Maundy Thursday. So, the setting for what we just heard read together is the Last Supper. Jesus is gathered with his friends, followers and loved ones for a final meal, hence we call it the Last Supper…a last earthly meal before the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday…before the cross and empty tomb. Yet today, we are well past Maundy Thursday and the events of Holy Week, at least in regard to the church year. We are fully into the Easter Season, for Easter in our tradition is not a day…not just Easter Sunday…but a 50 day season of reflecting together on the world changing implications of Jesus’ glorious resurrection from the dead…of God’s great proclamation that love is stronger even than death…the great promise that death is more gate than grave…and that, in the fullness of time, sin and death shall not stand…only life and love…from everlasting to everlasting.
So, one might rightly wonder why on the 5###sup/sup###Sunday in the Easter Season are we stepping back in time, if you will, to consider together a story and teaching that leads directly, at least narratively speaking, to Jesus’ death on the hard wood of the violent cross, as opposed to say, considering another one of Jesus’ resurrection appearances or the like. And I think, just my own two cents here, that the reason those scholars who created our lectionary that assigns readings for each Sunday of the year…I think that they reached back to the night before Jesus’ crucifixion and set this particular Gospel lesson before us on this, again, 5###sup/sup###Sunday in the Easter season because…because on that night before Jesus’ suffering and death…even before the surprise, wonder and hope that Jesus’ resurrection inaugurates…at the Last Supper, Jesus shares with his friends and followers…in advance of his death and resurrection…a vision…a forward looking vision of the life we are called to inhabit and the people we are created to be, on the other side of the resurrection…the side we are now on…after Easter.
You see, Jesus’s whole life…all he did…all he taught and said…that led up to the world altering events of Holy Week…point us forward past Easter to who we are called to be as God’s own resurrection people, alive and active in this very present moment where we find ourselves. Jesus’ willingness to directly and at great personal risk challenge the powers and principalities who drive our death-dealing, inequitable and, too often, violent world…his willingness to challenge social norms and extend God’s life-giving love to those living on margins, whether gentiles, Jews, women, men, black, brown, white, poor, rich, sick or healthy…his willingness to associate with and heal all those who came to him with broken hearts and broken bodies without distinction…his willingness to form an intimate family made up of relatives and strangers, who he cared for and loved well to the very end…his willingness to teach with authority and demonstrate with his life what risk taking love looks like and can accomplish…his desire to draw the whole world into God’s loving embrace by stretching out his own arms on the hard wood of the cross…his willingness to put love of other, all others, before our human instinct to self-protect and to favor our own tribe…all of that…all of that…is what the life of those who are freed from sin and death, those who come after Easter, are to look like and more so to be.
And we…you, me…we are those who have been freed from sin and death, for both were utterly defeated at the very first Easter. Thus, freed from sin and death, we can now with boldness and without fear, as people whose hope is founded on Jesus’ glorious resurrection, become who we were created by the God of love to really be…finally and forever. Thus, Easter is not only about our end…but our now…not only about the promise of rest in God’s eternal bliss when we eventually throw off this mortal coil…instead living as the resurrection people of God provides an always present invitation to finally become the lovers and life-givers we were made to be…for the very life we are living right now…and for those with whom we share it. No longer encumbered by a fear of mortality…no longer constrained by the power of sin, our own and others, we have nothing left to fear from our death-dealing world…instead we are infused with the power of resurrection to lean into it and take it head on.
So we look back to the life Jesus lived and we remember the words that Jesus taught to inform our choices our perceptions our attitudes, as we dare greatly, in the name of love, to remake and shape both our present and our undiscovered future…the resurrection people of God…tearing down crosses and opening tombs that are all around us…offering the hope of resurrection, that empowers our own actions and witness, for all those still suffering…those who the world continues to crucify and bury.
So, returning to the Last Supper…Jesus is still, here at the very end, the night before his last breath is exhaled from his lungs as they are filled with fluid on the cross…Jesus is still…both showing and teaching us what life on the other side of Easter should look like…who we are to be as an Easter people…the resurrection people of God.
As I mentioned at the outset, on Maundy Thursday, we hear more of John’s version of the Last Supper, so as a reminder just before Jesus utters the words we heard read today…he washes his disciples feet…and then, as if to explain the act of intimacy that has just unfolded, Jesus says to his first friends and followers and to us, also his friends and followers, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” It is like Jesus is sharing, at this final earthly meal with those he loves, a summation of all he did and said in his precious life…all the loving and healing and sacrificing and, when called for, challenging…that made up all of his words and deeds. And that summation, which comprises our gospel lesson today, is: love…love one another…exactly like I have loved you.
So, love alone…a love for one another that looks just like Jesus’ own love for us is what then fully defines our own after Easter life. Love is the very air we are to breath, as the resurrection people of God. And, as I said on Maundy Thursday, that sort of love looks a whole lot like washing each other’s feet…something like an act of offering and receiving…offering what for many is a very vulnerable part of our body, our feet, to be held, cared for and cleaned by another person…and then receiving…as we take into our hands that same expression of vulnerability, someone else’s feet, to be welcomed, cared for and cleaned by us. And in this “offering” something of ourselves and “receiving” something of another…in this mutual moment of intimate care…in this profound exchange of vulnerable and lavish love…we become who we are made to be…a resurrection of sorts has been birthed into the present moment through our own Easter lives…and perhaps, just perhaps, nothing will ever be the same.
These hands…these bodies…even these feet…that we use to walk into people lives and then feed, nurture, heal, clean, and resurrect one another…are God’s own…for we are together Christ’s resurrected body…his resurrection people…unencumbered by fear, freed from sin and death, to live a life just like the one that Jesus lived…to be and become just like Jesus…to love…love…love. Amen.