Readings: Exodus 12:1-14 and John 13:1-17, 31-35
Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
This small flourish of narration – easily overlooked – is the beauty of Christ and his way; the hope and promise of Easter. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Jesus, the anointed one of God, is the one they called a friend of sinners. A friend to the downcast and the lost, the lonely and despised, a friend to those who have more than a few regrets. Jesus loves people – we should not lose the power of this statement just because we could imagine seeing it on a t-shirt. Jesus loved humanity (sure!), loved all creation (yes! enough to reconcile it all to God) – these are true statements about the redemptive mission of Christ… but Jesus also loved (loves) people, specific people, as a friend would. Many of the times Jesus becomes acutely emotional in the gospels is when he is confronted by specific suffering. When he weeps over his friend Lazarus, when he considers those suffering Jerusalem, when he sees the fear in his followers, the needs of a hungry crowd. For Jesus loved his own in the world and loved them to the end… To the end. This phrase is not supposition – it has been tested. Between this claim and the end, Jesus will be betrayed, denied, deserted. He will be tortured, abused, crucified. He will experience desolation, abandonment, and mockery. And yet, upon the cross he will look down on his mother and ensure she is taken into a friend’s home, he will look down on those killing him and ask for their forgiveness, he will look at a man dying next to him and promise him paradise. In three days, he will find those disciples who fled and offer his wounds as a testament to his presence, and breakfast as a promise of his forgiveness. To the end, to the bitter and triumphal end, Jesus loved his own.
This love did not require their unwavering courage in the face of violence, did not require them to understand all that was happening (and happening in realms unseen). He, who was a friend of sinners, knew the love sinners had to offer was fragile. He loves his own to the end, despite knowing how awkwardly and unsatisfactorily he would be loved at the end. Jesus loves his own to the end because such a love will be found nowhere else. It is with no expectation of perfection, or a demand to be shown our worth, that Jesus asks his disciples: love one another. This is his “new commandment”, the last commandment. One might presume, that facing the precipice of death, alone with his closest followers, a religious leader might offer some final esoteric knowledge or secret doctrine. But Jesus, friend of sinners, asks them to simply love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
We gather tonight, on the eve of Calvary, readying ourselves to attend to the cross of Christ. This mysterious, tremendous, salvific event. There has been plenty of ink, and more than a little blood shed over the details of how exactly life comes through death, how exactly the execution of Christ constitutes something “good.” And while the pursuit of answers to these questions are not to be scoffed or shelved, we are here reminded that they are surrounded by these two little verses in John.
Easter orbits the love Jesus had for his own, and the love Jesus asked his own to show. We stand amidst and as testament to this love. For we too are Jesus’ friends, we too have been loved to the end, and we too are asked to love one another as he loved us. Easter is, at its core, simply another time to grow in this love (to know ourselves more and more as those who are loved, and called love one another in kind). That’s it really: Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. May we do the same. Amen.
Image: Maundy Thursday Foot-Washing by Cara B. Hochhalter, 2019 (Vanderbilt Divinity Library)
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