I have been really surprised by one almost universal thing as I sit with families after their loved one dies. I usually ask the same question “how did your loved one show their love?” And more times than not, the answer I get is “we weren’t a real huggy-kissy kind of family….” Or “I think my mom/dad only told me they loved me about twice in my life….” And the underlying idea is that this loved one, your mom, dad, grandma or grandpa or whoever did love you, but they just never said it. More than once I’ve heard grieving families say to me “there is no doubt that he or she loved me.” I am trying to figure out if it was a generational thing or a geographical thing or what. My family and I are very huggy-kissy. It’s also part of our heritage. Italians often greet one another with kisses on the cheek.
I also think about the families that tell me, if I had just one more moment with my loved one, I would tell them how much I love them. For me, no encounter, meeting, or phone call goes by with my friends and family without me telling them how much I love them. I refuse to live with regret. We are told within the first sentence of this reading that not only does Jesus know very clearly what is going to happen to him. It says “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father.” The crucifixion was not a surprise. Jesus’ death wasn’t a surprise. This didn’t come out of nowhere. He had been telling his disciples for some time that he was a marked man. Granted, they didn’t want to believe him, but Jesus knew. He knew all along. And because he knew he was about to leave this world, he wanted to make sure his disciples knew one thing: how much he loved all of them.
Jesus was known as a man of action. He did more than tell the disciples he loved them, he showed them. While foot washing may seem a little strange to us, it was very common in Jesus’ time. Usually when one would enter into a home (especially for dinner) it was expected that you would wash your hands, face, and feet. But, usually it was the household slave that met you at the door with water and towel. It was also this household slave that would help to wash the feet of visitors. Maybe you can understand why the disciples were a little disturbed that Jesus would then do something that was traditionally meant for a slave. When Jesus finished, he asked the disciples “do you know what I have done to you?” I have to imagine that Jesus was more than just a bit frustrated when the disciples probably just looked at him, befuddled.
Jesus is setting an example, he tells them. Do to others what I have done to you. Jesus is encouraging his disciples, and us, really, to be of service to one another. Servants, slaves, are no greater than their masters and messengers aren’t greater than the ones who sent them. Jesus is reinforcing the idea that anyone can be of service to anyone else. ANYONE. And then, out of all of the things he could have told his disciples, he made sure they understood this act of love by telling them to love one another.
On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a very controversial idea. After all, we have come to know through our faith that we serve a God of love and that God showed that love through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is love. Jesus is God’s love letter to us. Maybe we’re just used to the idea that Jesus loves us. Maybe what we’re not so used to, however, is the idea that Jesus loves those around us as much as he loves us. Remember, Jesus is preparing for his death. As he is ripped away from his friends and made to carry his own execution tool, the thing he wants everyone around him to remember is that he loves them.
Friends, if you think being a Christian is an easy task, that it just comes to you by nature, then I want you to think very carefully about this commandment that Jesus is giving us. First, let’s focus on the idea that this is indeed a commandment, not a suggestion. We don’t have an option. Maybe you have no problem understanding or accepting the idea that Jesus loves you. But that’s not enough. What Jesus calls us to do is difficult to do because our sin always gets in the way. How easy this commandment would be if Jesus said “accept the love I give to you and then judge if others deserve the same love.” We seem to have this down pretty good. The call to love one another is in complete and total contradiction to almost everything we have heard this election season. Sure, there have been some bright spots, but we have seemed to enter an age in this country where we’ve forgotten this commandment.
I know most of you aren’t Christian because it’s easy. Let us not let the cross be in vain. If you are going to profess that Jesus is your savior, you must also profess that you love your neighbor. Those two things cannot be independent of one another. Being a follower of Jesus means we love people society doesn’t. Being a follower of Jesus means we love people society says we shouldn’t. Being a follower of Jesus means loving people we may disagree with. There’s a great t-shirt I’ve seen floating around the internet. On the front it says “love thy neighbor.” On the back it says “thy homeless neighbor, thy Muslim neighbor, thy Black neighbor, thy White neighbor, thy Jewish neighbor, thy Christian neighbor, thy Atheist neighbor, thy racist neighbor, thy disabled neighbor, thy addicted neighbor, thy gay neighbor, thy abusive neighbor…” I could go on and on but I think you get the point.
See, we can’t claim the cross as our salvation if we don’t claim all of it. That means loving our neighbors and admitting our sin when we can’t. It means being willing to be misunderstood and maybe even chastised. Our reward isn’t going to be felt on this earth. If we’re going to claim the title of “Christian” or “disciples” then it’s clear that we must make our motto one of love. It’s one thing to call yourself a Christian, but it’s another to act it. The challenge has been set before us, brothers and sisters. Love one another. Start with yourself. Then, be willing to have the Holy Spirit open your minds and hearts, and love one another. Love one another not expecting anything in return. Love one another without abandon. Love one another because it’s what Christ commands. Just….damn it! Love one another.