Love one another
By Pastor Steve
This Sunday, all over the Christian world, congregations will hear a reading from the Gospel of John. It’s a confusing reading, taken on its own, about glorifying, and being glorified, about leaving, and seeking, and not finding. Yet we encounter this reading with joyful ears, because it also includes maybe the most powerful thing Jesus ever taught. It includes Jesus’ new commandment, the guiding star of the Christian life:
34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. [John 13:34-35, NRSV]
Not only is this the occupationof the Christian, but it is our identity. In the love we evidence towards each other will be our self-identification, and our communal identification as followers of Christ.
So, yeah, the rest of the reading, in itself, is a little confusing, but hey, this part, THIS part, is so powerful, let’s just roll with it. And we do. We read it, we hear it, we preach it. In fact, if anyone this weekend hears a Gospel sermon about John 13:31-35 that is NOT about those last two verses, let me know! I’d love to hear about it!
Of course, Christians have always hemmed and hawed, and tried to get out of what Jesus commanded us to do. We’ve wondered, well, who is it exactly Jesus commanded us to love, the same way the religious leaders heard the story of the Good Samaritan and asked, “Who exactly is my neighbor?” while what they meant is, “Who is OK for me to NOT love?”
Oh, Jesus said love one another, but he was talking to his DISCIPLES, so we only have to love other CHRISTIANS…
Except that this little set of verses follows one of Jesus’ most powerful teachings, and it tells us EXACTLY whom we are to love, as Christ loves us.
In the Christian faith, there is powerful religious moment during worship that we call by many names. The Eucharist. The Lord’s Supper. The Table. In my tradition, it’s most often called Holy Communion. It’s the sharing of bread and wine (or juice), and it is both a remembrance of the last meal that Jesus shared with is followers, and a participation in a meal in which God’s grace is made manifest in community. It is the seminal act of worship, and, in the view of the 18thcentury theologian John Wesley, could be a “converting ordinance,” through which one’s own conviction regarding the divinity of Christ might be deepened, strengthened, or, in some cases, manifested for the first time.
This scripture takes place at that last meal, the one we remember at our Communion table, the meal that would become the foundational action of Christian worship.
And right before Jesus spoke these words, he did the most amazing thing. He looked out at his followers, who had loved him, sacrificed for him, learned from him, and said, tonight one of you will betray me.
Who? they asked. Which of us will do this thing?
The one to whom I give this bread after I have dipped it.
And then he dipped the bread.
Now, Jesus knew what was coming. He knew the plots that had hatched in Judas’ heart. He had been foretelling his own death over and over again, and he knew that the time of his betrayal was here. He knew he would be betrayed, arrested, tortured, and murdered. And he knew by whom.
And knowing all of this, he dipped the bread… and he gave it to Judas anyway.
He fed his betrayer.
Doing so could have been a symbolic act of resistance, a refusal to compromise no matter the cost. It could have been one last chance to try to get Judas to rethink his course when faced with Jesus’ kindness.
But I don’t believe either of those things.
There, in that room, among the disciples he loved, I think Jesus dipped the bread, looked into the eyes of the one who would betray him, and handed him the bread as a way of saying, friend, I know what you’re about to do, and I need you to understand this: there is NOTHING you can do to make me stop loving you.
If we, as followers of Christ, are to take seriously the command to love one another as he has loved us, we need to remember this moment, and the depth of a love that would reach out a hand to nourish, maybe even comfort, the very one whose kiss was about to betray him to his death.
That, friends, is love.