If this text sounds familiar, it’s because we heard it not too long ago. This text is always used on Maundy Thursday. We aren’t that far removed from Jesus gathering his disciples around a table and eating one final meal with them. We aren’t that far removed from Jesus kneeling at the feet of his friends, washing them in humble service. We aren’t that far removed from Jesus explaining all of this love to those gathered, even Judas(!) the one who would betray him. We aren’t that far removed from his trial, the denial of Peter, the nails in his flesh, all of it. We aren’t that far removed from Joseph of Arimathea carrying the dead, lifeless, crucified body of Jesus away and laying him in the tomb. We’re not that far removed from a display of love so hauntingly beautiful and yet so unbelievably disturbing. We’re not that far removed from any of that. We’re also not that far removed from the empty tomb. We still have alleluia’s on our lips.
It’s difficult to hear this text during Lent and reflect on the commandment given. Especially as we start to gaze towards the cross. The display of love that will be nothing short of a state sanctioned execution leaves us mournful, confused, and maybe anything but loved. After all, if Jesus loves us, why would he leave us? If Jesus loved us, why would we have to watch him suffer? If Jesus loved us, why make us wait and wonder for three days? But now! Now we are resurrection people. We’re empty tomb people. We’re “we-know-the-end-of-the-story” people. We’re alleluia people. And once again Jesus tells us that we should love one another. Now, here’s where the rubber hits the road. Here’s where I am going to lay it on you and I can’t promise it’s going to be easy. What difference does the resurrection make? What difference does the empty tomb make?
If we can’t love one another during Lent, what makes us (or Jesus) believe that the resurrection is going to change our ways? If we are only going to be resurrection people one day a year, instead of all 365 days a year, then why even go to the empty tomb? Why declare that death has lost its victory and sting? What I mean is that if you’re going to wave hi, acknowledge me, invite me to coffee, and give me a hug on Sunday but you ignore me all the other 6 days of the week, then what difference does the resurrection make? Because here’s the thing: when Jesus said we should love one another, it was not an option. When Jesus said we should love one another, it didn’t have parameters. When Jesus said we should love one another, he didn’t say “only if you feel like it.” Jesus said love one another. Period. End of story. But oh how often we want to add to that story. “Love one another, but…” or maybe “love one another, if only….” What about “love one another, until…”
I’ve heard it said that we shouldn’t place a period where God puts a comma. I’d like to propose that we not add qualifiers to Jesus’ commandments. If we take it seriously that God so loved the world, then we ought to see what that looks like played out through us, for us, because of us, and DESPITE us. See, before Jesus’ death, perhaps we might have been a little unsure about this love stuff. Perhaps it was hard to conceptualize such love because we hadn’t seen the cross. We hadn’t seen the thorns. We hadn’t seen the nails. We hadn’t heard the dice being rolled and his clothes ripped from his body. But now, now my beloved, we have seen and heard too much to go back to lukewarm love. We have seen and heard too much to go back to qualifier love. We have seen and heard too much to go back to thinking that the love Jesus spoke of was just for us, from him. No, see the empty tomb changes our story and we have seen too much.
Do you know why Jesus leaves his disciples and us with this commandment that we should love one another? It’s more than just a nice thought. It’s more that something you might find embroidered on a fancy throw pillow. It’s more than just lip service. Jesus tells us that we should love one another because he will ascend into heaven. He will no longer physically be with us. Jesus tells us to love one another because the world needs love and we are the ones to give it. Jesus tells us to love one another because we are empty tomb, resurrection, on the road to Emmaus people in a world that is still bound and determined to stand at the tomb and bask in confusion and the pungent odor of death and defeat. Jesus tells us that we should love one another because we live in a world that believes death is the end of the story. Jesus tells you that we should love one another because so many LIVING people are already stuck in tombs of death and it is to us to roll that stone away.
We need to love one another because the noise is too loud and love is our mute button. We need to love one another because the world tells us our bodies aren’t loveable. We need to love one another because the world tells us our contributions aren’t enough. We need to love one another because hateful rhetoric is more commonplace than civil discourse. We need to love one another because too much blood has been spilled in the streets, on our college campuses, in our elementary schools, in our places of worship and religion all in the name of power and white supremacy and neither can be our God. We need to love one another because people are starting to believe the lie that hate can win. We need to love one another because we have seen too much, heard too much, felt too much, and the world needs to know a different story.
We need to love one another because we are resurrection people. We need to love one another because death will never have the final word. We need to love one another, my beloved, really, and maybe most importantly, because the alternative is just too damn dark and depressing. People don’t want to hear about our Jesus; this Jesus of love. Instead they want to hear about a Jesus that looks like them, talks like them, thinks like them, votes like them, legislates like them, worships like them, and loves like them. But Jesus loves like Jesus: without barriers, without exception, without even anticipation that love will be returned. Jesus loves with service, with humility, and with hospitality. Jesus loves like the cross mattered but the empty tomb is our glory song. And if we so “love to tell the story” but our actions show anything but love, our words are useless. Love one another. It is an action. Not an option.