SERMON – Easter VI
May 13, 2012
+In the Name…
Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love” (St. John 15:9-10).
Here we are again being taken back to Maundy Thursday (even in Eastertide!) to hear more of the teachings and instructions that Jesus gave to the disciples before the betrayal by Judas, the arrest, the trials, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension – which we will celebrate as a Solemnity next Sunday.
His teachings and instructions on Maundy Thursday comprised the final and very extensive class of His course on discipleship and apostleship. On Pentecost, the Apostles would be filled with the Holy Spirit so that they might carry out His teachings and instructions in the conduct of their lives and as they taught others in His Name.
What Jesus taught on Maundy Thursday comprises four of the twenty-one chapters of the Gospel according to St. John, which tells us how critical these teachings were and are for our Lord’s apostles (and those in apostolic office) and His disciples then and now.
Maundy Thursday is so named because on the night of that day Jesus gave the Mandatum Novum, the new commandment – “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another." And He says in the very next verse what obedience to this new commandment accomplishes: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
In the Gospel passage for today, Jesus repeats Himself as He says – “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." And then defines the true depth of such loving as He loves – “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." And then He defines what constitutes friendship with Him – “You are my friends if you do what I command you” – which implies that we should be willing to lay down our lives for Him, whom we certainly want to have as our friend; but more so, that He knows that we claim Him, and desire Him. to be our Lord, Teacher, Master, and Saviour.
When Jesus speaks of loving “one another as I have loved you,” He is speaking of what He would soon do for the sake of love. He would lay down His life as a sacrifice for our sins so that we would be placed in a restored relationship with God. He took upon Himself our sins and offered Himself as a pure sacrifice to satisfy the justice of God the Father, who required that a penalty for sin be paid by man, who had squandered the relationship that God willed for man to have with Him.
Jesus came to rescue man from his condition of estrangement from God. His love for the Father and His love for us led Him to be obedient to what God the Father had determined would provide satisfaction for sin, and for atonement – at-one-ment between God and man.
Jesus said that if we are willing to give all for God and others, then we are obeying Him – then we are abiding in His love, and then we will know a joy and satisfaction that the world cannot give.
Which brings us back (as it always does) to the Cross, which is the symbol of the Love of God for man, accomplished by the obedience of His Son, which involves suffering – suffering that speaks loudly and boldly that it is that which changed and changes things for good.
When you and I came to the realization of the fact that Jesus died for us (not for any merits of our own or because He owed us something), that He poured out His life as He did because He wanted us to have something we couldn’t have on our own, we came to think differently about Him, didn’t we? We were drawn to Him as one who would do such a thing for us, not for Himself.
He calls us, He commands us to love in this same way. He says that if we would come after Him, we must embrace the Cross – dying to self for Him and others, so that the world will know that we are His disciples, and so that our lives bear fruit – “fruit that should abide." St. Paul describes such fruit (the fruit of the Spirit) as: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
We only can do this when, and as we obey, the new commandment: “…that you love one another as I have loved you." As our hearts are set to obey, we abide in the Christ’s love, and He abides is us, and He enables us to obey and bear fruit. With such an intent, we will increasingly know the truth of our Lord’s teaching: “…he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (St. Matthew 10:38-39).
I shared a few years ago in a sermon something that I believe is worth repeating, and I share it again for those of you who have not previously heard this.
A number of years ago I saw a movie made for television in which the late Sammie Davis, Jr. starred. It was about an Army boot camp where a group of white soldiers caused hell for the black man in their outfit. Hate and prejudice to the max was the order of each day in the boot camp for Sammie Davis, Jr. – as the butt of cruel jokes, harsh hazing, and personal humiliation because he was small, and because he was black. At one point, the white guys decided to scare him to death by “accidentally” tossing a grenade in his direction during grenade-throwing practice – a grenade with the pin securely in place. Their plan was to scream and carry on, to get him to believe that it was a fully live grenade about to blow up in ten seconds. The prank occurred. The grenade was tossed near to Sammie Davis, Jr. The white soldiers screamed and yelled, “Live grenade, live grenade!!” There was panic on the face of their target, and then suddenly he dove on the grenade, and screamed to them, “Get down, get down, get down!!!” The white soldiers froze in shock, and stayed frozen in total silence, and then each dropped their heads in utter and complete shame. Two of them helped the man up off the ground who had laid down his life in order to save them from death. And from that point on, you know who was thought of and treated differently, in a way that was near to reverence. Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, than a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Christ calls you and me to the observance of the “New Commandment." He speaks of this commandment to love one another as he loves us three times on Maundy Thursday, because it is the crux of Christian discipleship. We are to love one another as He loves us. We are to be ready (if needs be) to lay down our lives for others, as He did for us. We will only be in the place to do so when we have died to self to live for Him and for others for Him. This is living boldly and courageously, and with risk, because there is no guaranteed return. There is no other way to live in order to abide in the love of Christ. There is no other way to live to be alive.
I conclude with the words of C. S. Lewis in his book The Four Loves:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
God grant us the grace to love as we are loved, so that we be alive; so that we abide in Christ who is Life; and so that the world knows that we are very much His disciples.
St Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians: “For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (3:3). May that indeed be our situation for Christ in us to be known and for Him to be glorified.
Alleluia. Christ is risen, The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
+In the Name…