“I give you a new commandment. That you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” John 13:34
We are in the fifth week of Easter and yet our Gospel today takes us back to the night in which Jesus was betrayed. Remember when he gathered his disciples together for dinner that night, and before anything else took off his robe, got down on his knees and washed their feet. A job considered so unpleasant and humiliating, the law said even a slave could not be compelled to do it. Jesus knelt on the hard floor and cradled each dirty foot in his hands. He washed each callous, scrubbed between the toes, patted dry each blister and each broken, yellowed toenail. Then Jesus broke bread with them all. And then Judas with his piece of bread, piece of the body of Christ, still in his hand, goes out into the night. I always want to stop him, to pull him aside and tell him to change his mind. Don’t leave, stay at the table. Surely, he knew Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior, but when Jesus failed to embody Judas’ version of what a Savior ought to be, he betrays him with a kiss.
Deep down I know I am not all that different. I too, have betrayed the ones I love when they fail to be my version of what I want them to be. Years ago, I was whining to Ginny Reimet, about one of my sisters who was coming to visit. I complained, “She just drives me crazy.” Ginny immediately replied, “I bet you drive her crazy too.” Maybe for you it’s not a sibling, but a parent or a child or a co-worker or neighbor who drives you crazy. But I suspect it’s someone, because it’s so easy to get caught in self-centeredness, to nurse grudges, to stay stuck in anger, to be passive aggressive and active aggressive– all ways we betray others and ourselves.
Jesus’ response to Judas’ betrayal amazes me. Instead of being anxious and afraid, Jesus declares that what is about to happen will glorify him. The cross becomes the place where the wonder and fulness of God will be revealed. Then without giving us a moment to ponder the significance of that, Jesus turns to us and gives us a new commandment – love one another, just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. Three times he says, love, love, love. Could it be that we too will experience glory in obeying this new commandment?
Some have asked, “What’s so new about this commandment?” After all, in Leviticus we’re told to love God and our neighbor. What’s new are the words to love “as he has loved us.” I don’t know about you, but I confess that this has always been intimidating to me. I am a sinner — unclean to the core of my being, and yet by grace simultaneously also a saint. And guess what – you are too! Sinners, yet that does not separates us from the love of God given to us through Christ. Jesus loves sinners. Jesus loves us. It’s amazing grace and absolutely glorious. At Bible study on Wednesday, some of our wise ones said they thought such grace was even experienced by the betrayer, Judas. And yet to love as Jesus has loved me, still seems impossible.
Do you ever struggle with this? What grade would you give yourself in loving others as Jesus has loved you? Be honest. Maybe today’s an A day – a good night sleep, a beautiful spring day and while you’re at worship your car is being washed! Or perhaps it’s a B day – someone cut you off on the way to church, or you were up half the night with the baby or worrying about those who use to be the babies, the baby, or you simply read the news. Anyone having a C-minus day – living on cope, hoping just to get through. Jesus sets the bar pretty high when he commands us to love others as he has loved us. So, what’s going on here?
Know there’s a gift in the command to love. It’s a command. We’re not given a choice. It means we are to love when we don’t feel like it or find the other almost impossible to love. We are to love our children through puberty and hope that they’ll love us through senility. We are to love when the most loving thing might be ending a relationship or perhaps summoning up the courage to change it so that something new might grow. We are to love when we have no idea what that involves and where it will take us. We are to love when it’s not easy, when the other person drives us crazy, and pray that we’ll be loved when we are driving that person crazy too.
We can do so because we love out of Jesus’ love for us. He goes to the cross and dies for us, and in our dying is with us. Jesus’ love flows through us and between us. As John wrote in one of his letters, “We love because he first loved us.” We can dare to obey the commandment to love trusting that God’s love for us never runs out. And yet sometimes it feels as if it does. One of my favorite poets, Christian Wiman, writes, “Love does not die without our assent, through often that assent has been given unconsciously long before we come to give it consciously.” But then he goes on, and this give me hope, “Love is not only given by God, it is sustained by God. There is a constant interplay between divine and human love. Human love has an end, which is God, who makes it endless.”[i]
Might the glory, our only hope of glory, be this constant interplay between divine and human love? And so, a betrayal by a kiss becomes a broken place wherein God in Christ redeems the world, just as God in Christ redeems our own broken hearts. Judas’ love, our love, comes to an end, but God makes love endless. While this can be hard to comprehend, there’s a Sunday School song that puts it far more simply – Jesus Love Me! If you need help with the words, it’s on page 595 in the ELW:
Jesus loves me! This I know, for the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to him belong, they are weak, but he is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves,
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.
[i] Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013, 29.