Easter 5A - John 14: 1-14
We come from Love
We return to Love
And Love is all around
My friend, colleague and mentor, Pierre Wolfe, taught this to us as a summary of Ignation Spirituality. Pierre used to be a Jesuit priest until he was called to marry a woman religious, Mary - and Jesuits are the spiritual heirs of Ignatius of Loyola.
This summary might also be called the summary of the theology of the fourth gospel. For John and John’s community, God is Love, Jesus is God, and indeed Jesus spends much of the fourth gospel calling us to become a community of love.
From the get go, chapter one, verse one, it is made clear that Jesus not only comes from God but in fact is God and has been God since the beginning. And throughout John the leitmotif, and particularly in the text before us this morning, is Jesus’ imminent return to God - all of which is linked to the first chapters of Genesis (“In the beginning....”) and our own origins as having come from the God who is Love - and here we learn that not only will we return to Love, but God in Jesus is already preparing a place for us and will return personally to bring us back into the household of Love, home of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
This fourteenth chapter is often reduced to the sixth verse (which some of us may recall was the focus of endless bickering in our diocese and throughout the church in the late 80s and early 90s), thereby stripping it out of its greater context which is Jesus’ farewell discourse (chapters 13-17), which coincidentally, or not, is John’s portrayal of the Last Supper. We can assume as such that it has Eucharistic undertones and overtones!
A distinctive feature of John’s Last Supper is absolutely no mention at all of bread or wine, and thereby offers no words of institution as we find first in Paul’s Corinthian correspondence and later the other three gospels. It is chapter 13 of the discourse that gives us the basis for our observance of Maundy Thursday - from the Latin Mandatum from which we get the words mandate and command.
"Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" ("A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you") John 13: 34-35.
It is this commandment and this Love that lies at the heart of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Divine Liturgy, the Mass and the Great Offering - all the names our Catechism uses to describe this little get together we have every Sunday morning - and now a days often on Saturday evening as well.
John and John alone uses the five chapters of the Last Supper to give us concrete examples of what this Love looks like - Jesus, robed with a towel on his hands and knees washing feet.
My friend Pierre tells me that there are Christians in Europe for whom this ritual is the weekly sacrament - that is week after week they wash one another’s feet. Why? Well for one, it is Biblical. And for another, it serves as a reminder of what may be the most important and often overlooked verse in chapter 14, verse 12: “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and, in fact, will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father.” Note carefully that faith (belief) is directly connected to works - that is faith is to result in works - faith is known through the works themselves, or however else one needs to scramble the words to see that Jesus is primarily interested in orthopraxy - right behavior - than orthodoxy - right belief.
To that end, Mary Wolfe, the former nun, assumed a new vocation as Warden of a men’s prison in Connecticut. Each Maundy Thursday she and Pierre would walk through the prison and wash the prisoners’ feet. But it was not just a once a year act of service she had in mind. Mary worked with the guards as well and taught them to help mend the men’s pants which had buttons instead of zippers. Guards and staff would pitch in and sew new buttons on the prisoner’s pants. We are to be those people who not only do the things Jesus does, but greater things than these will we do because he is with the Father.
It is not just Christianity that sets such a high standard for its people. The Torah, the first five books of the Bible, goes to great lengths to outline for the Jewish people how God expects God’s people to live in community, including taking care of widows, orphans and resident aliens, forgiving debts every seven years, and a great Jubilee Year canceling of debts every 49 years! And the Quran imagines that Muslim communities will guarantee that every man, woman and child, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, should receive, from the community, adequate food, clothing, shelter, education and health care - sounding a lot like the early Christians in the first few chapters of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles.
A friend of mine on Facebook recently posted, “Interesting that the ‘message’ has been revealed in so many texts, but still people refuse to “get” it.”
It may seem cliche, since it was featured in movies like Forrest Gump, but a song by Chet Power, aka Dino Valenti, at one time with probably the least well known San Francisco band, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Let’s Get Together, is an adequate summary of much Biblical theology.
Love is but the song we sing,
And fear's the way we die
You can make the mountains ring
Or make the angels cry
Know the dove is on the wing
And you need not know why
C'mon people now,
Smile on your brother
Ev'rybody get together
Try and love one another right now
Some will come and some will go
We shall surely pass
When the one that left us here
Returns for us at last
We are but a moments sunlight
Fading in the grass
C'mon people now....
If you hear the song I sing,
You will understand
You hold the key to love and fear
All in your trembling hand
Just one key unlocks them both
It's there at your command
C'mon people now...
Try and love one another right now, Right now, Right now!
We come from Love
We return to Love
And Love is all around
As we do the things Jesus does, and greater things than these, we become the love that is all around, all the time for every one, for everything, for the earth and all that is therein. Amen.
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