Fifth Sunday of Easter (Easter 5)

Love one another

John 13.31-35

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus says,

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

The ‘new commandment’ is ‘Love one another.’ That’s nice, isn’t it? That’s really lovely.

But let’s set the scene. Jesus and the disciples are gathered together, but not at any old time; it’s the night before the crucifixion. I say, ‘Jesus and the disciples’ are there, but there is one who is missing. Judas. He has gone out. What we read is this:

Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’; or, that he should give something to the poor.

We know why Judas has gone out. But let’s imagine we’re hearing this story for the first time. Sometimes, we can learn new things that way.

So we have Jesus and all the disciples but one around the table. No one but Jesus knows why Judas has gone; and we’re imagining we don’t know why he’s gone either. Certainly, not one of the disciples guessed that he’d gone because he was about to betray Jesus to the authorities.

Jesus says, ‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’ A short time before this, Jesus washed their feet. Just then he said—only a few minutes earlier—

…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.

Remember Holy Thursday, just a month ago? Our feet were washed then.

The washing of feet shows what Jesus means by ‘love’. Jesus doesn’t worry about his dignity; he serves the other members of the circle of faith. And he instructs us that this is an example for us to follow.

…if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet…

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another…

A writer called Fred Niedner asked a very interesting question about the story of the New Commandment. This is his question:

Have you ever wondered whether, upon hearing Jesus’ new commandment about the way the disciples should now love one another, any one of them went out into the night looking for Judas in order to extend that love to him? Did anyone fear for him, miss him, or try, even after he brought soldiers to Gethsemane, to bring Judas back to talk him out of his shame, his anger, his rapidly deepening hell?

Look at this picture. You can see that it’s a representation of the Last Supper. Jesus is there, with bread in his hand. We can imagine him saying, ‘This is my body.’

We can also imagine him saying, ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’

Count the disciples. How many are there? There are eleven at table with Jesus. But can you see the shadow in the doorway? It’s the shadow of Judas.

Is he leaving, or is he looking back? It’s hard to say. Will any of the disciples go after him to help him or to see what’s wrong? Looks to me like they’ve forgotten him already.

The shadow of Judas falls over every Communion meal. The Last Supper happened ‘on the night he was betrayed’. But it’s not only his shadow; the shadow of everyone who once shared our fellowship but left in unhappy circumstances is here every time we celebrate Holy Communion.

There are shadows of people who drop off coming to share worship. People who feel aggrieved. Perhaps you may be conscious of some of those people right now, people who haven’t been here the way they once were.

Earlier in the Easter Season, I spoke of showing your resurrection life. Showing the life of Jesus that’s within us. One way we do that is to practise noticing when a brother or sister in Christ is missing, and then do something about it. We could make a phone call to see how they are. We could invite them for coffee. We could send a card.

Actively caring for another person in Christ’s name is part of living the resurrection life.

But more than that, remember that during Lent we went through a series on spiritual practices. Or, as Richard Foster calls them, spiritual disciplines. I want to suggest that if we want to live a life that shows our resurrection, we will be disciplined in seeing who is away. People sit in pretty predictable places. Has someone who sits near you been away? Give them a call, send them a text or bring it to their elder’s attention or to mine.

There’s another part of the spiritual practice of caring for one another. In this congregation, anyone who wishes to be in a care wheel has been placed in one. Or should have been. When you look at your care wheel, you’ll see that there are people on either side of you. Those are your people to contact if you notice they’re not around. Let this be a spiritual practice. Let it be a discipline. Let it be a sign of the life of Jesus among us.

Jesus says, ‘Love one another.’ Let’s make that a spiritual practice, a spiritual discipline. Let’s look out for one another so that we may truly love one another as he has loved us. Let that be one way that we show that Jesus is alive among us. Amen.

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Filed under church year, RCL, sermon, spiritual practices

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