what wondrous love is this?

preachinga sermon, based on John 13.31-35, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 5th Sunday of Easter, April 24, 2016. (The title, “what wondrous love is this?”, is a play on the words of the 19th century American folk hymn: What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul! What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul!)

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

What kind of love is this that reveals to the world our relationship, our fellowship, our kinship with Jesus?

Is it the love of our oldest relations, our bonds formed by virtue of birth with our families? No.

Is it the freely chosen love of our friendships with like-minded, like-hearted folk with whom we share similar values and interests? No.

Is it the affectionate love rooted in our emotions that, aflame with passion, can ignite into romance? No.

These loves, as wondrously warm and welcoming as they can be, as they are when realized, are limited in scope and focus, origin and object. For everyone is not a family member, a friend or an intimate partner. In contrast, Jesus speaks of a universal love to be offered to all, for it shines with the Easter-light of his life and ministry, death and resurrection for the sake, for the salvation of all.

Our gospel takes us back to that night Jesus gathered with his disciples for a last supper when he also washed their dusty, dirty feet.[1] In that lowly, slavish act, Jesus demonstrated how far love stoops in service of another and gave them and us an example “that you should do as I have done for you.”[2]

Christ washing the apostles' feet, Dirck van Baburen (1595-1624)

Here, Jesus reveals what he means when he says, “As I have loved you, you should love one another.”

Even more, Jesus, knowing Judas son of Simon Iscariot would betray him,[3] declared to his disciples, “One of you will betray me,”[4] but did not point his finger, identifying Judas, did not command that his disciples seize him. And “when (Judas) had gone out” to carry out his dastardly disloyal deed, Jesus did not speak ill of Judas and did not launch into a mournful, self-absorbed monologue about the suffering that would befall him as a consequence of Judas’ infidelity. Rather, saying, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified”, Jesus spoke of his elevation on the cross of his death and, with deepest affection, offered consolation to his disciples, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer.”

The Last Supper (La ultima Cena), Benjamin West, 1786

Here, Jesus, in his rejection of retaliation, in his concentration on the call of his destiny, even in the face of his fear, in his compassion, preparing his disciples for what would come, reveals what he means when he says, “As I have loved you, you should love one another.”

Still more, we, knowing the story, know what did come. Jesus was arrested, tried, crucified, and he died.

Crucifixion, Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge, 1894

Here, Jesus, in fulfilling his word to his disciples, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”,[5] reveals what he means when he says, “As I have loved you, you should love one another.”

More still, after Jesus was raised from the dead, he appeared to his disciples, who, in his greatest, gravest hour of need, deserted him and fled, saying, “Peace, be with you.”[6] Jesus also appealed to Peter, who, in cowardice, three times denied knowing him, asking, “Do you love me?”[7]

Feed My Lambs (Pais mes brebis), James Tissot (1836-1902) ), Brooklyn Museum

Here, Jesus, breathing peace, not merely an absence of conflict or trouble, but reunion, reconciliation, overcame the estrangement of his disciples’ guilt and shame. Here, Jesus responding to Peter’s affirmation, “Yes, Lord, I love you!” recommissioned Peter, saying, “Feed my sheep” and re-called him into service, saying, “Follow me.” Here, Jesus reveals what he means when he says, “As I have loved you, you should love one another.”

To love as Jesus loves is to act – for this love in not an emotion, but an expression of the will, the power to choose – for the sake of others, all others from footwashing humble service to laying down life heroic sacrifice, if and when the occasion demands. To love as Jesus loves is to reject retaliation and revenge. To love as Jesus loves is to forgive, speaking a word, following the way of peace. To love as Jesus loves is to testify to the world that we are his disciples. To love as Jesus loves is to prove to the world that Easter is true.

 

Illustrations: Christ washing the apostles’ feet, Dirck van Baburen (1595-1624); The Last Supper (La ultima Cena), Benjamin West, 1786; Crucifixion, Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge, 1894; Feed My Lambs (Pais mes brebis), James Tissot (1836-1902), Brooklyn Museum

Footnotes:

[1] John 13.4-5

[2] John 13.15

[3] John 13.11

[4] John 13.21

[5] John 15.13

[6] John 20.19, 26

[7] John 21.15-19

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2 thoughts on “what wondrous love is this?

  1. Great sermon Paul!! We all think and feel that we know what love is…. But we’re usually thinking about the emotional kind of love we feel for those closest to. But what you’ve described here is so much more universal, AND so much harder to achieve. I wake up most mornings ready to tackle the world, ready to love everyone as Jesus wants. Then life descends…. Someone cuts me off on the highway and I momentarily want revenge. Or I’ve given a couple of dollars to homeless people in the streets yet there are always more homeless than I can help and I’m
    frustrated because it seems we’re never going to end homelessness and I don’t know who to be mad at about that! These things are hard, so it can be difficult to love everyone as Jesus loves us. That said, Jesus is certainly worth the effort!! So we just have to realize that it takes focus and a love that’s stronger than any we’ve known with an individual person. I always pray that I can do a better job of this kind of love….. Tomorrow.

    Like

    • Thanks, Loretta. Your response Spurs a couple of additional thoughts.

      First, given our culture, verily, the social ether we breath in and breath out every day, one that traffics in romantic notions of love, which, thereby, have to do with how we feel, it’s difficult to focus on another kind/sort of love, one that is a matter of he exercise of the will, the power to choose.

      As I believe the love of which Jesus speaks is this agape love of unconditional benevolence (and who among us is unconditionally anything?), then our capacity to live into it, to do it is an act of the Spirit’s empowerment, which allows us or grants us the capacity/ability to choose. (Without the Spirit’s gift/grace of power, we couldn’t choose to love this way.)

      You’ve given me something to ponder and perhaps I’ll address this element of how we love as Jesus loves in another sermon.

      Again, my thanks, indeed, my gratitude

      Like

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