Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C, RCL
Acts 11:1-18, Psalm 148, John 13:31-35
This evening, through the breaking of bread and wine at the Last Supper, through the washing of feet, Jesus offers a new covenant, a contract, between us and God. When covenants are formed there are often rules; things to do or not do, commandments. Many covenants are sealed with some sort of sacrifice. With Judas leaving the room, we know the preparation for the sacrifice has already begun to take place. We know what God is offering us; the forgiveness of sin through faith and repentance which gives us everlasting life as adopted children of God. And yet again, like many covenants, there is a new commandment to go with this covenant.
Love one another doesn’t sound like a new command. Love one another is a command from the Old Testament. And it is found in almost all world religions. Because of this, I think it is safe to say that we obviously have a difficult time loving one another. From prehistoric time to today, loving those outside our family is not usually our best attribute.
The simple command “love one another” is confusing because it has different meanings for different people. Many of us claim to love all people even if we hold onto grudges or hatred. We claim to love even if we admit that we cannot forgive. Many of us would not have to look very deeply to find this to be true. We just have to think about a person who has hurt us in one way or another. Yet it is all too easy to justify our feeling, claiming that we can hold feelings of love in a healthy tension with hatred. Can this be the love Jesus speaks of?
I knew a person who claimed she had an abundance of love to share. She had a husband, two children, and another two male companions. She said she loved them all equally. And I wonder if she really understood what love truly is. To me, this doesn’t sound like the love Jesus speaks of either.
I have experienced the love of two parents for their child. They profess their love in loud wails as the child lies on an exam table nearly unconscious. The child has been beaten to an inch of its life by the father yet he proclaims his love. I know that this abusive “love” is not what Jesus is talking about.
This very old command; love one another; love your neighbor as yourself can be twisted and manipulated into all kinds of meanings especially if you do not know love or you do not have love for yourself. But Jesus didn’t come to give us an old command and claim it is his own. He came to fulfill the commandments and give us an example; a perfect example of love. Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Through Christ’s love, and his examples of loves, we are to know what true love is and we are to love others in the same way. If we are to love others as Christ loves us, it sounds like the only way to carry out this new commandant is to know Christ’s love ourselves. This means we have to know Jesus and his love for us.
To know Christ in our lives is much like any other relationship we have. It takes conscious effort and time. A relationship has to be nurtured and cared for. We have to spend time together getting to know one another in deeper and deeper ways. In the Baptismal Covenant, we are asked, “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” Through the apostle’s teachings, what we call the New Testament, along with study and explanation we learn to know Jesus’ love better. It is through intentional study, exploring meaning, and conversation that we find the fullest meanings of these texts. We are then called to fellowship. This is not just hanging out together, though that is very important. It is having dialog, reflections, and understanding as to how these scriptures are lived out in our own lives. Through our stories and the stories of others we know Christ better. And lastly, the Baptismal Covenant speaks to communion and prayers. We receive Christ’s grace in the Body and Blood and when Prayer is a part of our daily routine we commune with God, knowing Christ even deeper.
It is true that we do all of these things here on Sunday morning, we read and study scripture with some remarks about them in the homily. We pray, participate in communion, and have fellowship over tea and coffee after the service. As important as our Sunday services are, they are none the less limited. If we attend Church every Sunday without missing a single one, in the three-year lectionary cycle, we will have read less than 4% of the Old Testament, 58% of the Gospels, and 25% of the other New Testament books. Though we cover the majority of the highlights we are missing most of the action.
If your Christian life is comprised only of Sundays, this is like being a huge sports fan and only watching the evening news to follow our favorite team. The news gives you the highlights, the incredible Hail Mary pass, the last second touchdown. It tells you who made the home run, and if there is the time, it might even talk about an injury if it was serious enough. But this brief overview is nothing like watching the full game. By watching the game you understand the buildup to these great plays, there is increasing suspense in what is going to happen next. We are much more likely to empathize with the struggles and celebrations along the way. The news is a bit flat and very limited compared to the real game.
In our story from Acts today, we see Christian fellowship in live action. Peter is out in the world telling others about Christ. He is eating with the Gentiles who have strange customs and rules. They don’t seem to follow the biblical teachings. The tale of Peter’s adventures makes it back to his friends who have only heard the news. His Jewish friends don’t understand how he could be hanging out and eating with these people who are so different. And what does Peter do? He “explains to them, step by step.” He tells his friends how these other people worship the Lord and were filled with the Spirit. How they are not really that different from us. Peter loves these strange Gentiles the same way Jesus loved Peter. Peter spread this love and showed the Gentiles the love of Christ and now they can do the same. This is the love that we know through Christ. This is the love we are commanded to offer others.
We received the gift of love, the ability to spread this love especially to people who are different from ourselves. Christ’s love has no bounds and because of this, Christ loves me, and you, and all the people of the world. The more we know Christ’s love in our lives; the more we know that we are loved by him, the more we share this love with others. And the more others will know that we are his disciples.