“As I have loved you, you also love one another” Holy Thursday 2024

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28. March 2024
Holy Thursday
John 13:34-35

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

When Jesus gives a commandment, it is not optional. To follow Jesus is to listen to Him and do what He tells you. As the blessed Virgin Mary at the wedding in Cana instructed the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” But do what He says is only part of what the commands are given for. He does not command to show power. He does not establish rules because He is an authoritarian. He does not make, administer, and judge laws by a tyrannical despot. Nor does He make demands like a helicopter parent. All His commands are for the sake of blessing and promise. 

You recall the conclusion of the commandments: “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Ex. 20: 5–6). Love and punishment belong to the law. How do you love your neighbor? Read and follow commandments four through ten. How do you love the LORD your God? Read and obey commandments one through three. You’ll note, too, that the commandments only speak of God and the neighbor. One cannot truly love without loving the other. Self-love is selfishness. True love is turned outward to the neighbor, denying oneself.

Only in Jesus do we see such love wholly and completely. “As I have loved you, you also love one another.” This love for us was displayed tonight in the Upper Room as he set aside His outer garments and washed His disciples’ feet. And it will reach its apex on Golgotha as Jesus is lifted up on the cross. He gives His life for our life, sheds His blood to spare our blood, and dies our death that we may never die. There is no greater love than this that Jesus gave His life for sinners, His friends. 

And then, in like manner, Jesus gives us the ability to love one another wholly and completely, first in the household of faith and then before neighbors, rulers, and even enemies. One cannot love God without loving one’s neighbor with the same kind of self-sacrificial love that Jesus has for us. He calls us to follow after His example because such love is a living testimony of the love of Christ for us. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” This is His commandment, the law you have now heard and must follow.

Ouch. That’s harsh, pastor. How could Jesus expect anything like that from me? One option is to throw up your hands in exasperation and return to a life of selfishness, caring about yourself more than Jesus or your neighbor. That’s the way of our hedonistic and nihilistic world: living as if you matter most. This is the highway to hell. Another way is what our theologians call the opinio legis, the false opinion that you have to save yourself by your good deeds. This is the common denominator of all religions outside faithful Christianity. Here, you can imagine earning God’s love by loving Him through works, charity, and mercy. But as the Scriptures testify, all your works, even your best ones, are refuse or garbage before the terrible and awesome standard God’s law demands.

There is another way. This way is narrow, and the road is often difficult. But Jesus promises to light this path and guide your feet. The key to understanding is not that we follow a set of abstract instructions but that we follow Jesus. Our LORD speaks, and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. This is what is missing. They accomplish what they say. They are for our good and blessing. All His commands are for the sake of  His promises for us coming true. We love one another only in receiving Jesus’ love for us sinners. He fulfills His own command by loving us and giving us to love one another. Or, as the Apostle says, “We love because He first loved us.”

The new You born by water and Word in your baptism, breathed into with the Spirit, are given faith to listen and follow. Following is another word for faith. This faith is born from what is heard and acknowledges the gifts they given with thankfulness and praise. When you hear the Absolution, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” they are forgiven. Faith renewed in that forgiveness answers, “Amen!” The commands to baptize, absolve, preach, and teach all are that you receive the blessings of God in the Spirit, blood, and water.

This is the rhythm of the Christian life: from Him to us and then from us back to Him. He gives His gifts, and together, we receive and praise Him for them. This even includes His commands to sing, praise, give thanks, and pray. He commands what is good for us and promises to bless us in them. We build one another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. 

On the night He was betrayed, and on the day of His death, our Lord gave us His body to eat and His blood to drink. He commands us, yes, to eat and drink. “Do this” is clear. No one is forced to eat and drink because the Scriptures also teach us only to eat the bread and drink of the cup, believing the Words that give them. Failing to discern the body and the blood of Jesus under the bread and wine puts one’s life in grave danger. As the Apostle testifies, “This is why some of you are sick and have died.”

But for you who have heard the command and believe the Words instituting the Sacrament and in faith receive it, you also get every blessing that is promised there. You get forgiveness of sins, past, present, and future. You get your life renewed. You get salvation from every evil, including the evil one. And this blessing isn’t static or a mere idea. His blessing moves you out into your callings, where these gifts have their fruition in you. The forgiveness received overflows in forgiveness given. 

It may have seemed odd to have the Gospel about Jesus washing His disciples’ feet with tonight’s overwhelming theme of Jesus instituting His Supper for you and me. Yet, this teaches us that everything Jesus says and does, even His commands, are given to us in loving service. This is Gottesdienst, Divine Service, after all. God in Christ serves us, giving us everything, and we receive everything. And in receiving all, we made cups overflowing with Christian love for one another. 

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin