Homily from service on May 15, 2022 – Fifth Sunday of Easter
Homily preached by seminarian, Michael Thompson
Sermon preached by Seminarian, Michael Thompson
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
Let us pray. Let the words of my mouth and the collective meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, and set our hearts on fire with your love. Amen.
Easter is great. It’s all about victory and love and screams of “Alleluia!” Sometimes, though, in the absolutely warranted joy and celebration, I think we forget how we got here. As Richard mentioned last Sunday, the Gospel lessons have shifted to flashbacks designed for us to make sense of what Jesus said and did in light of the full story of Christ: Incarnation, dwelling with and among us, torture, crucifixion, and resurrection. These flashbacks make sure we don’t forget how we got here.
This Sunday, we are taken back to the Last Supper. Remember our Maundy Thursday service? That is when we last read this Gospel lesson. There was that uncomfortable and, perhaps from our perspective, bizarre scene in which Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. We gathered around that altar, taking turns lovingly washing and drying each other’s feet, taking turns giving ourselves into someone else’s hands and then taking someone else into our hands. We gathered around the altar to reflect on the meaning of this strange act. We affirmed that if our Creator and Savior is not too good to wash our feet, then we are not too good to wash each other’s feet. We lived the discomfort of that act of love.
After explaining why he washed their feet, Jesus tells of his betrayal, Judas leaves, and Jesus continues with the last teachings he will give his disciples before his crucifixion. Chapters 13-17 of John’s Gospel are something of a last will and testament. Jesus knows he is going away, that his disciples will be scared and confused, and that they cannot yet even conceive of a Resurrection. Jesus knows that his death will seem final to his most beloved. Jesus knows what’s coming, and these are the words Jesus wants in the forefront of his friends’ minds as they face the horror, fear, and grief to come. The theme of Jesus’ final words to his most beloved as he prepares them to face humanity at its lowest, as they make their journey through crucifixion and hell before the Resurrection? Love.
In just five chapters, Jesus uses some form of the word “love” 32 times. Each time, except for the two in Chapter 16, the Greek word used is a form of “agápe,” the universal love to which Jesus constantly calls us. So, in five chapters, Jesus refers to agápe 30 times! I get the sense he is trying to make a point.
In today’s reading, we get that famous instruction: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” What’s so new about this “new” commandment? Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God instructs us to love one another. We are to share with neighbors and care for the oppressed and vulnerable. What’s so new, Jesus? “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” We aren’t just to love one another. We are commanded to love one another as fully and completely as Jesus – the Incarnate Word, God with and for us – loved us.
One of my favorite books that I wasn’t prepared to like is The Shack. For those of you who are not familiar with it or the movie, a man named “Mack” who struggles with his faith reaches a crisis point when his young daughter is murdered. Amid what he calls The Great Sadness, he receives an invitation from Papa, God the Father, to spend the weekend with Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu (the Holy Spirit) at the shack were his daughter was murdered. Papa appears to him as a large, beaming Black woman – yes, Mack sees Papa as a Black woman. This is an excerpt of one of Papa and Mack’s conversations:
[Mack’s] gaze followed [Papa’s] and for the first time Mack noticed the scars on her wrists, like those he now assumed Jesus also had on his. She allowed him to tenderly touch the scars, outlines of a deep piercing, and he finally looked up again into her eyes. Tears were slowly making their way down her face, little pathways through the flour that dusted her cheeks.
“Don’t ever think that what my Son chose to do didn’t cost us dearly. Love always leaves a significant mark,” she stated softly and gently. “We were there together.”
Mack was surprised. “At the cross? Now wait, I thought you left him—you know—‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ ” It was a Scripture that had often haunted Mack in The Great Sadness.
“You misunderstand the mystery there. Regardless of what he felt at that moment, I never left him.”
“How can you say that? You abandoned him just like you abandoned me!”
“Mackenzie, I never left him, and I have never left you.”
The love Jesus calls us to, the love of the Incarnation, the love of the life Jesus led, the love of the Crucifixion, the love of the Resurrection, and the love that leaves a mark is love in which we sacrifice our own wants and needs for the benefit of others. The love Jesus commands us to reaches its height when we think of someone else before ourselves. In Jesus, God lowered God’s godliness to experience the fullness of our humanity. Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus leads a boy to give up his five loaves and two fish, trusting that Jesus can make it enough to feed 5,000. Jesus prioritizes the needs of others for healing and forgiveness. In this Gospel reading, Jesus relinquishes his position as Master and Teacher and lowers himself to wash his disciples’ feet, tenderly caring for them. Jesus sets aside his own anguish over the horror that awaits him to provide comfort to his disciples. Jesus gives up his very life for us. Why? Because God loves us! Love always leaves a significant mark – both on the lover and the beloved.
That, Jesus teaches us, is the fullest and deepest expression of God’s love:
Setting aside ourselves to tend to someone else.
Giving up some of our food so that someone else can eat.
Giving up our clothing so that someone else can be warm.
Being a little less comfortable so that someone else might be comforted.
And even, sometimes, giving up our own lives so that someone else might live. In Chapter 15, Jesus repeats this commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” That time, though, he adds: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
This is hard! This is not rainbows and unicorns love. This is the stuff where we say to God, “Do I really have to?” We are hardwired for self-preservation, and here I am with Jesus saying that we should be willing to love so deeply that we might even give up our lives for another! How are we supposed to do this? Good news! Jesus already did it. He showed us how to do it. He destroyed any obstacles to our doing it. He proved to us that it was worth doing. He showed us that resurrection, new life, results when we love each other. When we set ourselves aside for each other in love, we do not simply affirm God’s presence in the world, we become God’s presence in the world. We let the divine spark within us shine with the life that is the light of all people, the light that shines in the darkness and cannot be overcome. We change others, and we are changed. When we love like Jesus, when we give of ourselves for others, we are marked as Christ’s own forever. Love always leaves a significant mark.
Love one another. As Christ loved us, so we should also love one another. Love always leaves a significant mark, and by sacrificing in love for one another, our heart and soul are marked as Christ’s. Amen.