Maundy Thursday 2017, April 13, 2017
Exodus 12: 1-4, 11-14, Psalm 116: 1-2, 12-19, 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26, John 13: 1-17, 31-35
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is Maundy Thursday. Maundy comes from an old Latin word, “Mandatum,” which means “command” or “order” or “rule”—it’s the same root that gave us “mandate.” And we call today Maundy Thursday because, in the night in which he was handed over to be crucified, as he gathered with his disciples and shared wine and bread and washed their feet, Jesus gave them—us—a commandment. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” And he keeps coming back to it. We’re only reading a short portion of Jesus’ final words to his disciples as recorded in John; he keeps talking for another three chapters. And while he talks about a lot of things, he keeps coming back to love. Love one another. Love as I have loved you. Love so that your joy may be full. Love. Love. I give you a new commandment: love one another.
Except, the problem is, it’s not a new commandment. If you flip back in your Bibles to the Old Testament, you will find commandments to love all over the place. The book of Leviticus is a collection of laws; in it God commands us both to “love your neighbor as yourself” and to “love the foreigner living among you as yourself.” Deuteronomy also commands us to love the foreigner. When Jesus told the lawyer that all God’s commandments and all the words spoken through the prophets could be summed up as “Love God with all your heart, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself,” this was not an innovation. This was exactly what God had been telling people, in Scripture and through preaching and prophecy and every method available, since time immemorial. So what the heck does Jesus mean by saying it’s a “new” commandment? “Love one another” is not new. It is as old as the hills.
Maybe the new bit is the second part: not just “love one another,” but “love one another as I have loved you.” Love one another as Jesus loves us, with Jesus’ example for a guide. So then the question becomes, how does Jesus love us? Well, for one thing, Jesus’ love for us has no limits. Jesus does not merely love the people who love him, or who are good enough, whatever that means. No. Jesus loves everyone. Jesus loves sinners—which, you may remember, is all of us, because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Jesus loves all people, everywhere—including people like Judas who are in the very process of betraying him. How do we know that Jesus loved Judas? Because Judas was there, at this meal. Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray Jesus, was going to hand him over to be crucified. Jesus knew what was in his heart. And Jesus, knowing all of this, washed Judas’ feet with the rest of the disciples. Jesus, knowing Judas was actively working against him, acted like a servant to do a dirty, gross job like foot-washing, even for the one who was his enemy. And, more than that, Jesus gave Judas his own body and blood. When he blessed the bread, and gave it to his disciples, and told them that it was his own body broken for them? Judas was there. Judas received Jesus’ broken body just the same as all the rest of the disciples did. When Jesus blessed the wine, and gave it to them and told them it was his blood, poured out for them and for all people for the forgiveness of sins? Judas received the cup just the same as everyone else. Jesus offers his body and blood to everyone, even Judas, even the one who is betraying him right then and there. And he does it out of love. That’s what Jesus’ love looks like.
To love one another as Jesus has loved us means we can’t draw lines about who is in and who is out. It means we can’t make distinctions between who deserves God’s love and who doesn’t. Because Jesus loves everyone, and Jesus died for everyone. Jesus may not like what we or anyone else have done, but that does not stop Jesus from loving. There is nothing, neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing we do or fail to do, no matter how much it pains Jesus, can ever make him stop loving us. Which means that if we are to love as Jesus loves, then we have to love everyone, no exceptions, no matter who they are or what they have done. We don’t have to approve of their life or like everything they do—I’m sure Jesus did not like what Judas was doing—but we do have to love them. There is no excuse.
The second question is, what does it mean for us to love people as Jesus loves us? Jesus showed his love in a lot of ways: feeding people, healing people, building relationships with people, but the greatest and most dramatic way he showed his love was by dying for us. Now, obviously, most of us are not called to that extreme of self-sacrifice. So how are we supposed to love people?
Let’s consider our reading from Corinthians. Now, we only heard just a small part of the letter, where Paul tells the story of Jesus’ last supper. But the Corinthians were a problem. They had the Gospel, and the believed, but they didn’t know how to live it out. They didn’t understand what the radical love of Jesus Christ meant for them and their community, so they just kind of went along acting like everyone else in society did. Which, among other things, meant that they didn’t worship together and celebrate communion together. What happened was that the rich people who didn’t have to work showed up early in the day with all the food, and had a great time eating and drinking and discussing Jesus’ words. Meanwhile, the people who actually had to work would get there in the evening, worn out, just in time to get the crumbs of the meal and maybe sing a hymn or two as all the “important” people were leaving. I’m sure that the people who were able to be there all day would have said they loved their poorer brothers and sisters, but it wasn’t their fault those others had to work, and why should their own feast and study be curtailed just because some people couldn’t make it? They would have said that they loved their poorer brothers and sisters in Christ, but their actions did not show it.
And so Paul spent a lot of time, in his first letter to the Corinthians, explaining what Christian love looks like in practice. And one of the things it means is that you can’t just dismiss other peoples’ needs because they are inconvenient to you. Christian love means that all are welcome at Jesus’ table, not just in theory but in practice. And for people to be welcome means that everybody’s needs need to be taken into account. Not just the people we like, not just the people whose needs are convenient, not just the people whose needs are similar to your own. We are all part of the body of Christ. We are all people for whom Christ died. We are called to love one another as Christ has loved us, and that means that we can’t just give lip service to our love for one another. We have to actually put it into action.
Love in action is what the Christian life is all about. God saves us because he loves us, and in response he asks us to love one another. God’s love is deeper and wider than we