During this time of the Covid 19 crisis, there are a lot of people who feels lonely, discomfort and even possibly, let down by the circumstances we are in. This morning in our Gospel reading, we hear Jesus comforting his apostles – he has equipped them and now he must leave them, he feels their disquiet, uncertainty and he comforts them.
Christ establishes his church to be “A Living, Loving Family.” And we ask you, are you a part of a living, loving family? Do you hear it as gift, something that Christ has graciously made us part of? Does Christ’s call for us to be a living, loving family feel like a burden or gift? As pressure or joy? And besides how we hear it, there is also the question of how we do it? How do we manage to live together as a living, loving family? These are the questions we will explore now this morning.
A living, loving family. These are themes that come through in Jesus’ words today in the Gospel reading, in John 14: 15-21, to be specific, part of Jesus’ discourse to his disciples on Maundy Thursday, the night in which he would be betrayed. After supper and before they went to the garden, Jesus had a talk with his disciples. And we get a portion of it here in our text.
Jesus is leaving them. He is going away, he says. Very shortly, he will be taken from them, and they will not see him. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure. He is giving them instructions for how they are to conduct themselves when he is gone. More than that, he is giving them courage and comfort for when he is gone. It is a both-and situation, you see. Jesus is both equipping them and instructing them. It is not one or the other, it is both-and. The courage and comfort he imparts to them will enable them to live out his instructions. So, it is for us. Our Lord gives us the courage and the comfort we need to be his living, loving family, even though we do not see him with our eyes.
Here are his instructions: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And again: “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he is who loves me.” So, Jesus is telling us to keep his commandments. That will show that we love him. To say we love Jesus, but not to keep his commandments, that would be a contradiction. If you love Jesus, then you will keep his commandments.
And what are his commandments? Well, in the immediate context of what Jesus is saying to his disciples, the primary commandment he is referring to is his command for us to love one another. Because right before this, Jesus has said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” And notice, the love that Jesus commands is the love that he himself demonstrates and embodies. It is a “just as I have loved you” kind of love.
How had Jesus loved his disciples? Well, again, right in the immediate context of our text, we have seen his love in action. Jesus got down on his knees and washed his disciples’ feet. He, the master, served his disciples in love. And he says this is the kind of love with which we are to love one another: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” So, this example of Christ’s love in action, in humble servanthood, this sheds light on what it means for us to love one another as he has loved us, and thus to love Jesus and keep his commandments.
Are there people for you to love in your life? Are there people right here in our online parish of St Francis Toti, in this little family of disciples, for you to love with a Jesus-kind of love? Are there church members you have not seen for a while, either because of the lockdown, maybe they do not have a way to communicate; they have not participated in the WhatsApp Eucharist, or the Zoom Services, or just not replying to any messages, but they’re still a part of our community. Are there brothers and sisters for you to forgive or to help or to serve? I bet if we have our eyes and ears open, if we spend time with one another as a family, we can discover those opportunities to love. Shall we give it a go?
But note, the key here is that Jesus has loved us first. This is how we know what love is. This is how we are empowered and equipped to love, namely, by first being on the receiving end of Christ’s love for us. “We love, because he first loved us,” John will say in his epistle. And in the gospel, we find out how, and how much, Christ has loved us. In John 13 it says, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of the world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” He loved them to the end! He loved them to the uttermost degree, and he loved them until his goal was reached! He loved them to the end.
Now the hour had come. This was the hour in which Jesus would be bringing to its finish the saving mission on which he was sent. Jesus would be going to the cross, handed over into death, to accomplish the life of the world. Jesus knows this is what is about to be set in motion: his betrayal and arrest, his suffering, and his crucifixion for our salvation. This is how much Jesus loves you. “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” That is what Jesus is doing. And that goal will be reached when Jesus cries out from the cross, “It is finished.”
So, Jesus’ love comes first. His is the essential love that precedes and produces everything else. All our loving comes from him loving us first. That is how we need to hear his words to keep his commandments by loving one another. It is not a cold command in a vacuum. It is not a command we have to keep in order to win our salvation, to earn it. No. Our salvation has already been won. Jesus earned it by suffering and dying for us. Christ, the only Son of God, shed his precious blood for all sinners everywhere, and that is the price by which we are free and forgiven. No other way. So, Jesus’ command that we love one another comes, not in a vacuum, but rather in the warm embrace of God’s own forgiving love to us in Christ.
Now, do you need help to carry out this commandment? You bet! So, do I. My selfish sinful nature battles against me and tries to keep me from loving others with a selfless love. I have this internal struggle between the old person and the new person I am in Christ. I bet you do too. But listen, God will help you in this struggle. Listen to what Jesus says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
Besides Jesus himself, you have another Helper on your side, at your side. That is the Holy Spirit, here called the Spirit of truth. He, the Spirit, is the Helper, the Comforter, the Counsellor, the one walking by your side to help you live the Christian life. You are not alone on this journey. You are not alone in this struggle. The Spirit will guide you in all truth. The Holy Spirit dwells within you. He was given you in your baptism, to keep you in the faith and to energize your Christian living. And the Spirit is working here, in the church, through the means of grace, to strengthen us in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another.
So, this is how we are a loving family: by first knowing and receiving Christ’s love and by the help of the Holy Spirit. And for those times when we fail and stumble in being the loving people we are meant to be, God’s love and forgiveness are right here to restore and renew us.
A loving family, that is who we are in our community. And on top of that, we are a living family. I mean, really living! We have been raised up with the very life of Christ! Listen to what Jesus says: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.”
On the night when Jesus said this, he was telling his disciples that he was about to leave them. And, indeed, that very night he would be betrayed and arrested and handed over into death. They would mourn and weep and be terribly afraid. But Jesus here promises them: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” When would that happen? On Easter! On the third day Jesus will be raised from the dead, and then they will see him again. The disciples will see their risen Lord, physically present in their midst. And he would be with them in that way for forty more days, until he ascended into heaven. But they know that Jesus is risen, that he had won the victory over sin and death, and that now he lives forever.
And this is good news for us. For even though we do not see Jesus now with our eyes, we know and believe that he is indeed risen from the dead. The Spirit has worked that faith in our hearts through the Word. And by that same gospel word, we know that all who believe and are baptized into Christ–we will share in his resurrection!
Listen again to the promise of our Lord: “Because I live, you also will live.” This is a promise for you! Bank on it; take it to the bank. This promise is utterly reliable. Stake your life on it. Jesus lives, and you will live also. Your loved ones who have died in the Lord, they are alive, with Christ, and Jesus will raise them up bodily on the day when he returns. Death is not the end of the story, by no means! Christ’s resurrection victory is ours! New life now and eternal life forever! This is the life that Christ gives to us and to all who are trusting in him.
And so, this living, loving family that we are a part of here, at St Francis Toti – The Parishes of St Marys Kingsburgh and The Church of the Good Shepherd, this is not the limit or the extent of Christ’s church. His family extends to all corners of the earth and to all the reaches of history. When Christ returns, we will begin to see how great this family is, from every tribe and language and people and nation. And even now, we join in praising God “with Mary Magdalene, Peter and John, and with all the witnesses of the resurrection, with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven.”
Dear friends, because Jesus lives and loves, we also will live and love. Brothers and sisters in Christ, let this promise of our living, loving Lord sink into your ears today and dwell in your heart: “Because I live, you also will live.”