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Love One Another

St. John’s Lutheran Church
28 March 2024 + Maundy Thursday
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Rev. Josh Evans


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I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.

It’s so simple – deceptively, even – this new commandment at the heart of this day, so named Mandatum – “Commandment” – Thursday.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.

It couldn’t have been easy – even, and perhaps especially, for the one commanding.

Jesus knew that his hour had come.
Jesus knew who was to betray him.
Jesus knew who was to deny him.

Jesus knew – and in spite of all this, he loves them to the end.

We get a very specific, tangible example of what that kind of love looks like … as Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, ties a towel around himself, pours water into a basin, and begins to wash his disciples’ feet.

To be sure, footwashing was a common practice of hospitality in the first-century world, but it was also dirty work … work that would have been relegated to a slave or something that a host’s guests would have had to do for themselves.

But here, Jesus flips the practice on its head, as Jesus is so keen on doing. The master becomes the servant, the teacher taking the form of a slave, emptying himself before those whom his social world would have deemed lesser or inferior.

Emptying himself … even before the one who would deny ever knowing him not long after.

Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

***

It couldn’t have been easy for Jean Valjean, “Prisoner 24601,” the protagonist at the heart of Victor Hugo’s classic novel-turned-musical Les Misérables.

He would have had every reason to become embittered – sentenced to nineteen years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread to help feed his starving family, and finally released on parole only to be shunned at every turn as he tries to find honest work or even a place to live, simply because he’s an ex-convict.

Which makes his own journey toward redemption – increasingly more selfless as the musical progresses – all the more remarkable.

It’s one of the musical’s most well-known lines – and there are many – and still, it struck me by surprise and even moved me to tears as I heard it sung again this past week:

In his dying breath, reflecting on all that has transpired, Valjean sings: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

The love of which Valjean sings is redemptive. It is disarming. It is his salvation. Truly, it makes no sense.

***

This is the kind of love with which Jesus loved his disciples, his friends, to the end.

This is the kind of love that compels Jesus to stoop down in what is perhaps the most intimate, vulnerable moment of connection they experience together – even those who would betray and deny him.

Jesus’s love, the love to which we are commanded this night to embody ourselves, is a self-emptying love which is wholly concerned for the other.

It’s a love which knows no bounds, and it’s a love in which we are enveloped by a God who comes to us in the flesh, emptying God’s self in Jesus, for us and for the life of the world.

It’s a love that often doesn’t make much sense to us – and it is our salvation.

Jesus’s love with which he loves us to the end is a vulnerableextravagant love. It is a love which holds no regard for human standards. It is a love without prerequisites or limits or exceptions.

It is a love poured out for us in the water that washes over our feet and in the waters that wash over us in our baptism.

It is a love set before us at this table, in this meal. It is a love with arms extended wide on the cross.

This is a love, indeed, with the power to transform us – and to transform the world.

***

To love another person is to see the face of God – and so seen, there is no going back.

Valjean’s final words give way to the chorus’ final defiant reprise:

“Do you hear the people sing?
Lost in the valley of the night,
it is the music of a people
who are climbing to the light.
For the wretched of the earth,
there is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end,
and the sun will rise.”

***

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.

It’s so simple – deceptively, even – and far from easy: Love one another.

And it is a powerful reminder: Love one another.

Bear witness to the flame that never dies, even in the darkest night.

In these Three Days: Sing of the revolutionary triumph of the cross and the feast of victory of our God.

Tonight: Sing of the love that loves us and all creation – that loves us to the very end.

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