As I Have Loved You
First Lesson: Revelation 21:1-6
Second Lesson: John 13:31-35
It was the night Jesus would be handed over. Jesus has just taken a basin of water, wrapped a towel around his waste, and washed his disciples feet—persuading them one final time to the depth and mystery of his love for them and God’s love for us and all people. But just in case that tender, tender act of love and service compassion wasn’t clear enough, He says to them, Listen, I’m with you only a little longer. You’ll look for me, but where I’m going you cannot come yet. So for the time being I give you a new commandment: that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
Love one another as I have loved you.
It’s interesting, he says, I give you a new commandment. A new commandment. Have you noticed this? Wasn’t this exactly the commandment he had been teaching and living and showing throughout their time together: to love one another? Wasn’t this the whole point of it all? All the teachings, all the healings, all the feedings, all the meals welcoming different folks around tables—wasn’t it all to show us how to love one another? Of course it was. That part of the commandment wasn’t new. The part that was new was how they’re to love. Which is to love how Jesus loves. This was new commandment. And in a way it seems to be correcting—or maybe clarifying—a previous commandment.
It was earlier in his ministry that Jesus was out preaching and teaching when someone came to him and asked him, Teacher, what is the greatest commandment? This wasn’t a trick question or even a provocative question. If anything, it was a fairly obvious question with a fairly obvious answer, the answer he provided: To love the Lord your God with all you heart with all your soul and with all your strength, quoting from Deuteronomy 6 and a verse so important to Judaism it has its own name that you’ve heard before, the Shema. It’s the first commandment Jewish children learn even today, and the first commandment the children of this church learn, too. And then of course he added a second commandment, this time quoting from Leviticus 19, saying, And love your neighbor as yourself. “Love one another as you love yourself” was the commandment he gave them then.
But that was then. And this is now, here on the final night he was to share with his friends with whom he had walked and lived and loved. And he gives them a new commandment. He looks at them sitting there, feet still damp, hearts still open but minds still confused, and he says to them, I give you a new commandment. Love each other as I have loved you.
Years ago I heard the artist and performer, Raegan Courtney, wonder about this change. Could it have been that after those years of ministering to people, seeing the pain they carried, so much of it self-inflicted, the weight of guilt and regret and shame, and addiction, maybe after all of that—seeing not just the way people treat each other but the way they treat themselves (the way they treat each other because of the way they treat themselves), he realized that to ask us to love each other how we love ourselves isn’t enough. Because we don’t always love ourselves. And so on that final night he tells them, Listen, don’t love each other as you love yourselves. Love each other as I love you.
And isn’t that it?
If we were to love others how we so often love ourselves, we wouldn’t see the good in them. We would more often see the flaws, the failures, the imperfections. We would lift those up, dwell on those.
If we were to love others how we love ourselves, we would find it hard to forgive—to seek forgiveness or to extend it.
If we were to love others how we love ourselves, we wouldn’t cut them a break. We would hold them to impossible standards to which no one could live.
If we were to love others how we love ourselves, we would expect them never to rest, never to stop working, never put it down.
If we were to love others how we love ourselves, we wouldn’t give them time to take a breath, let alone take a nap—we wouldn’t let them sit with themselves, to reset, to reframe, to remind themselves who they are, whose they are, what’s really important—to ask what is God calling me to in this moment, in this season?
If we were to love others how we love ourselves we wouldn’t really believe that God was working in their lives, often in ways they aren’t aware, but are good and nourishing and blessed.
Could it be that the problem is not so much that we fail to love others as we love ourselves, but that we love others too much in the way that we love ourselves?
But if we were to love others as Jesus loves us…
We would see their gifts and do what we could to create space for them to share them.
We would stand ready to forgive and to seek forgiveness.
If we loved others as Jesus loves us we would expect them to be nothing more than themselves, loving what we know of them, and trusting in what we do not yet know.
We would want them to be healthy, whole people—to have rest and joy and love and freedom. We would want them to be mindful—so mindful—that God is working in their lives, with purpose and intention. We would want them to trust that, to believe that, even in the times when it seems like it can’t possibly be true. We would want them to remember that the God who lifted Jesus from the grave isn’t done with them yet. That ours is a God whose work in us and love for us is never through.
If we loved each other as Jesus loves us, we would remember that before we’re anything else we are God’s beloved. Formed through God’s own imagination, marked by God’s own image, alive through God’s own breath, washed in God’s own Spirit.
And Beloved, if we could do this—if we would take this new commandment to heart and to body even in small ways, even some of the time, it would change everything.
And if we were to start this new way of loving as Jesus loves with ourselves, well, we might finally know what it feels like to be born again.