A sermon, based on John 13-31-35, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 5th Sunday of Easter, May 19, 2019
Note: For the title of this sermon, I have turned into an interrogative the declarative statement of the first words and verse of an American folk hymn (ca. 1835):
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,
what wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul!
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
What love is this that reveals to the world our relationship, our fellowship, our kinship with Jesus; that we are his sisters and brothers?
Is it the familial love formed by virtue of birth? No.
Is it the freely-chosen love of our friendships with like-minded, like-hearted folk with whom we share similar values and interests? No.
Is it the affectionate, romantic love rooted in our emotions? No.
These loves, as wonderful as they can be and are when realized, are limited in origin and object. For everyone is not a family member, a friend, or an intimate partner. Rather Jesus speaks of a universal love. A love for all.
In the light of Easter – and this is why, I believe, we have an Easter season that runs fifty days, for the message of Easter is so, too monumental to be expressed and explored fully on but one Easter Day! – we see clearly that throughout Jesus’ life and ministry, death and resurrection, he was, he is revealing to us what he means when he says, “As I have loved you, so love one another.”
On the night before he died, Jesus, gathering with his disciples for a last supper, also washed their feet.(1) In that lowly, slavish act, he demonstrated how far love stoops to serve others, giving them and us an example “that you should do as I have done for you.”(2)
Here, Jesus reveals what he means when he says, “As I have loved you, so love one another.”
That same night, Jesus, knowing Judas Iscariot’s treachery,(3) told his disciples, “One of you will betray me.”(4) But Jesus did not identify Judas or command his disciples to stop him. When Judas departed to carry out his dirty deed, Jesus did not speak ill of Judas or launch into some sorrowful, self-absorbed soliloquy about the suffering he would endure because of Judas’ infidelity. Rather, he said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified,” speaking of his elevation on the cross of his death.
Here, in rejecting retaliation and in concentrating solely on the call of his destiny, Jesus reveals what he means when he says, “As I have loved you, so love one another.”
Later that night, Jesus was arrested. The next day, he was tried, and crucified.
Here, in fulfilling his word to his disciples, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,”(5) Jesus reveals what he means when he says, “As I have loved you, so love one another.”
Then, Jesus was raised from the dead. He appeared to his disciples, who, in his gravest hour of need, deserted him. And what were his first words to them? He did not say, “I am ashamed of you.” He did not say, “After all I have done for you, I expected better from you.” I might have said these things, but Jesus did not! He did say, “Peace, be with you,”(6) and then, “As the Father has sent me, I send you,”(7) and then, breathing on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”(8) And to Peter, who three times cowardly denied knowing him, he asked three times, “Do you love me?”(9)
Here, in offering the peace of reunion and reconciliation, in breathing upon them the power for ministry, in recommissioning Peter, saying, “Feed my sheep” and “Follow me,” Jesus reveals what he means when he says, “As I have loved you, so love one another.”
What wondrous love is this?
The love of Jesus is Holy Spirit-power that abides not in our emotions, but in our will, our capacity to choose. To choose to help others, all others in lowly footwashing service to life-giving sacrifice, if the occasion demands. To choose to reject retaliation and revenge. To choose to seek alway the peace of reconciliation.
To choose to love as Jesus loves proves to the world that we are his disciples. To choose to love as Jesus loves proves to the world that Easter is true.
(1) John 13.4-5
(2) John 13.15
(3) John 13.11
(4) John 13.21
(5) John 15.13
(6) John 20.19, 26
(7) John 20.21
(8) John 20.22
(9) John 21.15-19
Christ washing the apostles’ feet, Dirck van Baburen (1595-1624)
The Last Supper (1786), Benjamin West (1738-1820)
Crucifixion (1880), Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins (1844-1916)
Jesus Appears to the Disciples, Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1255-c. 1319)