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The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Psalm 145:1-9; Revelation 19:1-9; John 13:31-35
People of power always leave their mark on the world. They live on, down through history, because of what they did. Alexander the Great conquered thousands of miles of Asia, uniting Greece, Palestine, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Persia together into one massive empire. The Greek language and culture fused with these other cultures, creating a commonality, which was reinforced for years afterwards as his generals divided up the land and their heirs ruled after them. We know Alexander had been there, because those lands and peoples bore the marks of his presence.
Genghis Khan did much the same, sweeping across Asia to conquer, from China to Eastern Europe. They devastated cities that resisted, toppling major world powers. The hard constructed irrigation and nurturing of the land was left unmaintained, and it is likely that this contributed to the barrenness of much of the Middle East today.
Adolf Hitler, in his holocaust program which murdered over 6 millions Jews, left a scar on the modern Jewish people that will never be forgotten. His war destroyed several countries in Europe, and even today the land, and the people, witness to his existence and his power.
Jesus, sitting in the upper room, preparing for his crucifixion, does something so remarkable, so out of step with what humanity believes “glory” is, that even now we struggle to comprehend it, let alone practice it. He says that people will know that Christians are his disciples because of our love for one another. His marks, his presence is not remembered by death, destruction, conquest, or boasting: Jesus Christ is witnessed to by the love of his disciples for one another.
It is the upper room. Jesus has washed his disciples feet, and they have sat down to the Last Supper. Jesus tells Judas to do what he has planned, and to do it quickly. Judas leaves, and that is where this narrative picks up. As Judas leaves, and the Cross is therefore imminent, Jesus takes this time of all times to explain what it is that will bring him and God glory. “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately.” It is a difficult verse grammatically, in English at least, so let’s break it apart carefully. First, Jesus Christ is “now” glorified, and God glorified in him. This is the Cross. His self-sacrifice, his willing offering of himself to go to death in order to defeat Death, glorifies God the Father, and is the glory also of the Son, God revealing divine love through that sacrifice. Love is what glorifies him. Second, if God is glorified in Jesus on the cross, then God will also glorify Jesus in God’s self; this is the resurrection. Through death, Jesus Christ came through Death, killing it and draining its power, and comes by divine power into Life, and life eternal. And third, this will happen “immediately.”
All of this is the work of the one who embodies the unfathomable love of God, like a depth of water that is impossible to plumb, making the Mariana Trench a puddle by comparison<Illustrate. But then, Jesus moves on because after these things take place, he will leave to return to the Father, to return to his glory as Son of God, and they will be left behind…for now. So what are his disciples to do?
What He has done. All of which, Cross, Resurrection, Return to the Father, is all Love. What are they to do? Make him known, not by conquest, or monuments, or destruction. The mark of Jesus left on the world was always meant to be Love, for by our love for one another will we be known as His, and by our Love for one another, we will make Him present where he only appears to be absent. We, The Body of Christ, by Love make Jesus Christ and His Kingdom present here and now.
The Church has failed at this, in every age and in every place. But, it has also succeeded, in every age and place. We are a mixed people, and even the holiest stumble and fail. This, though, is primary, and our greatest failures are when we forget that the command to love one another takes precedence over so much else. I have seen this, congregations torn apart because even one or two or three are committed to all else except love: methods of liturgy, ways of practicing things, judging others who don’t “fit” their culture.
If we behave like the world, seeking glory through might, or influence, or prestige, then we have failed in our task. Jesus never commanded those things. What does it look like, to love one another and thus witness to the power of the risen Lord? Leviticus 19, properly paired with this passage, tells us, a new commandment undergirded by an old commandment: help the poor, do not be dishonest, do not cheat others, do not abuse the disabled, and do not hate one another. One way to do this is simple: Pray for one another. Do you do this? Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses.”
We, the people of God, are to love one another, because God first loved us and demonstrated it through Jesus Christ’s life of service, and death on a cross. Following him means loving to the point of loss, by letting love take us even into death and through it into life. God’s love led to Christ’s humble Glory, and that love for us is the generative force that moves and empowers us also to love, and yes, even at a cost. Sacrifice for the sake of others, pray for them, serve them. That is the movement, the work, the Presence that has left a mark on a world so scarred by the pursuit of false glory. If we love the God who loved us first, and we wish the Kingdom of God to be felt, present and witnessed to Christ in the world around us, then first and foremost we must love, for Jesus Christ is witnessed to by the love of his disciples for one another.
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