At the risk of you getting your own ear worm, I quote from the iconic Tina Tuner. What’s love got to do with it. What’s love but a second hand emotion. Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken? Every time I’ve read the gospel appointed today over the past few weeks, this Tina Turner song pops into my head. And whether at work, at home, the store, I’m singing in my head or belting out the words (minus the impossibly high heels, big hair, and sequined dresses)
So what’s love got to do with it – it’s got everything to do with it.
Abide in my love. Love one another, as I have loved you.
A simple, yet earth-shattering message.
While all four gospels include Jesus’s commandment to love, The context of John’s gospel is unique. Here’s a bit of the backstory:
- Our passage today is part of Jesus’s farewell discourse – four chapters of Jesus’s final words to his beloved apostles – words of love, exhortation, and challenge. It sets out who we are in relationship to God, who Jesus is in relationship to his Father,how we are to live in relationship with each other.
- Jesus and his apostles are sharing a meal, Jesus’s last supper before being betrayed and arrested.
- Jesus has just washed the disciples feet and invited them to do this for others.
- He has just “outed” Judas as the one who will betray him.
- And just after this intimate time ends, Jesus is arrested with Peter’s denial of Jesus three times coming soon after.
So sandwiched between being betrayed by Judas and being denied by Peter, Jesus talks not about judgment or resentment or betrayal but about love.
These words of Jesus to his beloveds, is Christianity distilled down to its essence so that maybe we’ll pause long enough to hear it. Love one another. Love one another as I have loved you – even when you have betrayed me, even when you have denied me.
New Testament scholar D.A Carson writes : “This new command is simple enough for a toddler to memorize and appreciate, and yet it is profound enough that the most mature believers are repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice.” It’s the commandment we’ve been given from the beginning. Yet we forget it so quickly. We limit it and make it small. We make judgments about who is worthy of the love Jesus has so freely shared with us. We name our very selves as unworthy of love. We become exhausted, or overwhelmed and give in to despair or an existential angst that for me, manifests itself in believing that nothing will get better, everything is awful, and I can’t do anything about it. I feel that I have no love left to give to a world that is so broken and so angry .
And it’s in these spaces, in these cracks of despair and sadness and heartbreak, we are called to remember that not only does Jesus command is to act in love, Jesus invites us to abide in his love, to rest in his love, to know that he is our companion, our friend in our own loving of others. Even in those times we feel the least loving, the least lovable – Jesus welcomes us to be open to the breadth and power of God’s love yet again.
The love Jesus invites us to is a radical, open, vulnerable love. It’s a love that is stretched out from you to me, from us to others. It enfolds not just a few people, not just a family, not just a church, not just a racial group, not just a nation. Imagine it encompassing enemies, the WHOLE human family, and the whole of God’s good creation. Sit with that for a moment and consider the enormity of the love that Jesus calls us to – in a time when we can “unfriend” at the push of a button, rage endlessly in our self-affirming twitter feed, and are witness to the destruction and violence that not loving wreaks on others. Jesus’s command is to love ALL, everyone. Full stop. And that love for all does not we don’t stand against injustice and violence and dehumanization. For the love that Jesus calls us to is the type of love that
- takes a stand
- embraces the outsider
- embraces the adversary, the enemy
- embraces the oppressed and the oppressor
- embraces the self
- embraces us all
Love one another. As I have loved you, so you should love.
This is Jesus’s dying wish.
It is a love that knows betrayal. Love that knows desperation. Love that knows fear and terrible loss. This love knows it will be challenged, knows what it is getting into and yet loves anyway – eyes wide open. This love is powerful This love smashes borders – real and self-created. This love transforms us, when we let it and this love when its power is unleashed can transform the world, break the chains of oppression, and usher in God’s beloved community.
We love when we march.
We love when we serve
We love when we pray
We love when it’s hard and scary
And this love, rooted in community, rooted in Jesus, is not stopped. This love make its home in Jesus’s love — the most abundant, inexplicable, and inexhaustible love in existence.
“Love one another as I have loved you.” For our own sakes. And for the world’s.