Sunday, May 13, 2012

no, seriously... love one another

John 15:9-17
New International Version (NIV)
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit —fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
So… like… seriously – LOVE one another.

I mean it… love one another.

Thomas… pay attention… love one another.

When you read what is commonly known as the upper room discourse, those last hours before Jesus was arrested, the theme is pretty hard to miss. After Jesus washes the disciples’ feet… Once the bread and wine are shared… once Judas skulks off to sell his friends life for a pocket full of silver… once the formalities and the dramatic plot points are out of the way, Jesus speaks and he has something really important to say. So important that he says it over and over again. So important that he comes at it from several directions. So important that he rolls it back and forth until they get it… or at least if they don’t get it - then it is not because they were not adequately told.

Love one another.

Seriously, guys… Love one another.

In many ways this story is the most heartbreaking and beautiful story found in the gospels. It is also to most extended period of intimacy we see. Previous moments where Jesus speaks to his disciples, without an audience, are just that; moments. While it is safe to assume that there were many extended conversations that included only the men in the upper room that night… THIS story is the one that is recorded and it is no accident that it comes as a lead up to the most shocking and horrific part of the gospel narrative. Some twenty four hours later, the story will find a beaten and bruised Jesus, bloody and dying, looking out on a hateful mob and finding only one of the faces to whom he spoke on this final night. Only John, the disciple who records Jesus’ words from that final evening, will remain. The others will scatter. Peter will deny him. Thomas will doubt him. Judas will be dead. Only John remained and only John records this story in this detail and depth. 5 chapters (13-17) of John’s gospel are given to this story and it is John who will retell this story later, in the epistle that carries his name. John heard the words of his master and he, maybe more than any other, was changed and formed by Jesus’ words that night.

Love one another.

These were Jesus’ words on that Maundy Thursday… and these were the words ringing in John’s ears on Saturday.

As best we can tell, John was the only disciple who remained with Jesus throughout his trial and execution. It was John alone who witnessed this horrible event, not in whispers and rumors but in bloody reality as he watched it unfold. The others abandoned Jesus and, in some sense, they abandoned John as well.
Most of us have attended a funeral or a visitation for someone we may not have known well -  maybe the loved one of a friend. And; most of us know the importance of signing the guest book. It is true that grieving families are somewhat isolated during a funeral and the guestbook can be a great source of comfort later. Later, when we look and remember the faces of those who cared enough to come and share our grief. Weddings are the same. We remember those who came to mourn (or celebrate) with us and, maybe less nobly, we remember those who were not there.

After Jesus died, after his broken and bloodied body was taken down from the cross, after his body was placed in a borrowed tomb and covered with a heavy stone, John was alone… alone to remember. To remember the faces of Jesus’ mother and of Mary Magdalene; and to remember the absence of other faces; Peter, Matthew, Thomas, Judas, and even John’s own brother, James. Scripture does not tell us with certainty that they were not there but it seems fair to conclude that only John remained. And so, on the following day… as the world seemed to have gone dark, did John dwell on those faces? Was he hurt by their absence? Disappointed? Disillusioned? Angry? All this and more?

“John… love them”
“John… love them all”
“John… This is my command: Love each other”

John is traditionally portrayed as the youngest most sensitive of the disciples. He is thought to be more tenderhearted than the others and so it might be safe to conclude that the varying degrees of betrayal he experience on that lonely Saturday were more hurtful and painful than any of the others might have felt, had they been the lone faithful member of their tribe. And yet it was John who recorded Jesus’ final command. It was John who remembered those words in such clarity and detail when he told the story in later years. It was John who found Jesus’ words to be the heart of his message as an apostle. And maybe it was John because it needed to be John. Maybe Jesus knew that it would be John alone who would have the capacity to forgive the friends who abandoned him at the foot of the cross and to love them as Jesus had commanded. Maybe Jesus knew that, in order for the disciples to love one another, they had to be shown that love by one who had earned the right to withhold it.

Maybe it was John’s love that began the process of casting out their fear and guilt and shame. Maybe Peter, years later, was thinking of his friend John when he said, “Love covers a multitude of sins”… even betrayal and denial and abandonment.  And maybe Peter learned this early Easter morning.

The story tells us that:

John 20:1-10
New International Version (NIV)
 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripturethat Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Peter and John were together when they heard the news of the empty tomb. At some point on Saturday, they reconnected. Imagine the conversation. Imagine the emotion. Peter’s shame. His guilt. Imagine John, looking at Peter and hearing Jesus’ words… “John… This is my command: Love each other”

“so that your joy may be complete”
“so that you might go and bear fruit —fruit that will last”
We do not know the contents of John’s conversation with Peter. We don’t know if John received Peter immediately with love or if he came to it after some difficult conversation. What we do know is that When Mary Magdalene found the empty tomb she then found these men together and we know that Peter was restored as were the others. We know that each of these men are woven into the story of the foundations of the Christian faith and that Peter would become the leader of the early church.

And, although we cannot know, we may wonder what direction the story might have taken had John not so fully internalized Jesus command to “love one another.”  We may contemplate how Peter’s story might have taken a dark turn had John received with accusation and blame rather than love and forgiveness.
What if Peter had been rejected by John? What if he had not been with John when news of the empty tomb arrived? What if his grief and guilt over his denial of Jesus had led him, without John’s forgiveness, to follow a darker path, Judas’ path.

Of course we cannot know these things, we cannot answer these questions, but we may certainly weigh them and find within them the true substance and weight of Jesus’ words. And… we can consider how one young disciple, by receiving Jesus’ words and remembering when remembering was most difficult… and most needful… might have begun to live out the call we all share. To love one another.

May we remain in his love…

May we know his friendship…

May we keep his commands…

and love one another as He has loved us.

His Kingdom Come.

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