Loving Like Jesus

April 13, 2017

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
Maundy Thursday
Exodus 12:1-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Jesus is getting his affairs in order.

There’s no Garden of Gethsemane prayer of doubt in John’s telling of this story.

Jesus is clear about who he is, what he is doing, and what is coming next.

In the passage just ahead of today’s familiar story, it says:

Jesus cried aloud: ‘Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. (Jn 12:44-45)

What comes next is a demonstration of what “seeing him who sent me” looks like.

Jesus has had dinner with his disciples before, but he knows that his earthly life is drawing to a close. Words and signs have brought him so far, but he has a few more things to teach. Now he will give a tangible experience, an example of what it feels like to be embraced by God’s love. It’s important to remember that even Judas, the one who will betray Jesus, receives this example of love.

There’s no anxiety in this act. No haste.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. (Jn 13:3-5)

And while Jesus is a non-anxious presence, the anxiety creeps in through Peter. He’s on the receiving end of this example of love, but it is his teacher, his Messiah, who is bowing down before him. It’s jarring. It’s just not the way things should work.

But even Peter’s anxiety can’t derail Jesus’ calm nature. Jesus explains that in order to be in relationship with him, to be part of him, Peter must be willing to accept this act of love. It’s an example of how God loves. In jarring, unfathomable, generous ways.

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. (Jn 13:12-15)

Jesus is passing the torch. He is the light that has come into the world, and will be departing. He has used this act of love to ignite new lights in the disciples so they can carry on.  The disciples are ordained with these words:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

In John’s gospel, this call to love others isn’t measured against how we love ourselves, but against how Jesus loves. So, what might that act of love look like today?

Well, if we follow Jesus’ lead, based on Peter’s reaction, it would be something unexpected, even a bit unsettling for some. Perhaps one way is when we reach beyond ourselves to understand more about those who worship God differently than we do.

Our Lenten series this year was a step toward deepening our understanding of other world religions. And this past Tuesday, Ceci and I joined with our clergy colleagues and a handful of lay people from around the Diocese of Atlanta, to participate in the reaffirmation of our ordination vows. This year, Bishop Wright invited Soumaya Khalifa (pronounced: SOO-MAH-yuh  kuh-LEE-fuh), the Executive Director of the Islamic Speakers Bureau, to give the sermon. An unexpected choice, to be sure, and yet an example of what it looks like to love like Jesus.

Soumaya was soft spoken, yet very clear. She began by sharing her deep gratitude for having been invited to speak at such an occasion. She shared that her relationship with this diocese didn’t begin with an invitation from the bishop. It began over 15 years ago when Bob Hudak, then the rector at the Church of the Nativity in Fayetteville, GA, reached out to Soumaya to begin to build a relationship after the horrific events on 9/11. That’s what loving like Jesus looks like.

She also shared that in her preparation to speak at this Reaffirmation of Vows service, she did her own reflection on her vow to her faith tradition. As someone steeped in inter-faith work and adherence to the 5-times-a-day prayer practice of Islam, it seems those acts would be a daily reaffirmation. Yet she admitted that it can become rote, so it was important to stop and reaffirm her own commitment. Holy Week is a good time for each of us to reflect on this Jesus-following we profess – not just clergy, but all of us.

Embracing the collective practice of reaffirmation, at Tuesday’s service the bishop included a reaffirmation for the Laity, as well as the ordained. Highly appropriate considering the laity is the highest and largest order of ministry in our tradition.

In a few minutes, we’ll have an opportunity to reenact the example of love Jesus shared with his disciples. When we bow down before one another and wash each other’s feet, we share a moment of connection. It can be a bit jarring or uncomfortable for some. Even so, it’s an act that allows us to accept God’s generous love for us – unexpected and complete. It also invites us into fuller community with one another and a deeper connection with our faith tradition.

Let it be for each of us a reaffirmation of our love for Jesus, and a reaffirmation of our vow to follow Jesus’ command, that we love one another as Jesus loves us.

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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