Readings for the day (5th Sunday of Easter – Sunday, April 24, 2016):
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
The 13th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. That’s the Gospel reading for not just Maundy Thursday, but also today; the fifth Sunday of Easter. Why? I wonder if it is because on Maundy Thursday we usually focus more on the act of what Jesus was doing and less on what he says. And now in the season of Easter, we focus in more so on what he was saying that night he was betrayed by Judas.
After the meal, Judas vanishes into the darkness of the night, while Jesus gives his remaining eleven faithful disciples a new commandment, or rather a commissioning. A commissioning to tell just how the Son of Man was glorified. How did Jesus of Nazareth really become so famous and save the world? By loving us so much that he went to the cross, dying for the sins of all.
Yes we could read this as a simple command from Jesus to love each other. Loving each other is not a bad thing. It’s actually a good thing. It’s better than hating each other. But simply loving each other doesn’t glorify God. Loving each other just shows that you aren’t a jerk or mean to one another. So instead of this being a command to love each other, it is a commissioning to confess your faith in Jesus Christ to the world. And when you truly have faith in Jesus, the result will be that you love each other. If all the command is, is to love one another, then you have to work on it. But if you are commissioned to share this faith with others, you won’t actually share this faith unless you truly believe and confess this faith as well. And out of your faith comes love for one another – and you didn’t even have to work at it to reach that goal.
I can try to love eating mushrooms, but no matter how much I try, I can’t love them. It probably doesn’t help that I usually don’t try all that hard either. But regardless, I have to work at loving them. But, each time in the months leading up to the birth of my children, I put my trust in God that they would be healthy. And when they were born, I didn’t have to work at loving them, it just happened.
It is similar with our church family. We can try to love each other, treating one another with respect, loving everyone who walks in our doors as a fellow brother or sister in Christ. But when we try it doesn’t work. It’s like me trying to eat mushrooms, it just doesn’t work. But instead when we put our faith in God with Christ at the center of everything that we do – and I do mean everything that we do; from worship, to Bible Studies, meetings to serving in the kitchen, mowing the lawn to taking out the trash. When Christ is at the center of everything that we do, then love for one another will just naturally happen. And the world will know that we are followers of Christ and have put our faith in God because of not only our love for one another, but also because of the faith that we confess.
As a church we have some similarities with the first century church. The outlook looks maybe a little frightening with the decrease of attendance and involvement, the increased pastor shortage, and persecutions (and persecutions doesn’t have to take the form of killing someone because of their faith). By the time that John had received his vision from Jesus, the majority of the twelve disciples had been either arrested or killed; John himself was exiled. The church really had no stable leadership or any sense of direction. They felt lost. So John’s vision, which is recorded in the book of Revelation is a message to the church to keep their eyes focused on Christ. Jerusalem was going to soon be overrun by the Romans, including the destruction of the temple. So John tells the church not only of the looming reality, but also hope that is found in Christ. Jesus tells John that his presence is revealed through the breaking of the bread and the hearing of his word. So John tells the church that heaven actually comes down to us during our worship each week. And this is just a glimpse of what is in store for us, for those of us who confess faith in Jesus Christ. That one day, heaven will descend onto earth. All of the old things will pass away and God will make everything new. The graves of all the dead will be opened. God will be living among his creatures again. And this time he will put an end to death once and for all. Death will be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more. Every tear will be wiped from your face. For finally, the glorification that God began through Jesus’ death and resurrection will finally be ultimately complete.
This is the faith that we confess. This is the mission that Jesus commissioned his disciples to carry out. This is what you are commissioned to go and do. Tell the world. If the world is too big for you, tell your neighbors. This is what the church is commissioned to go and do. With Christ’s death and resurrection at the center of everything that we do, we will have love for one another, it’s inevitable, it will happen. And people will know that you are a follower of Christ, because of the faith that you confess, the mission that we share, and the love that you have for one another. Amen.
© 2016 Anthony Christoffels. Used with permission.