I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
These words come as no surprise to us do they? We’ve heard them before. If you’ve ever been to church on a Thursday night in Holy Week, you’ve heard these words before. In fact, the very name of this day “Maundy” comes from the Latin “Mandatum”, meaning “command”. This is the day Jesus commands us to love. It’s what we’ve come to expect isn’t it? No surprises are there? Jesus’ command to love one another is so old school for us that we could write the book on love.
Or could we? Do we really have this love-concept down?
I think if we’re really honest with ourselves, we’re going to acknowledge that Jesus’ command to love isn’t so easy. We’re going to admit somewhere in the deepest recesses of our heart, that we just don’t get it. We just don’t get why Jesus would give such an unreasonable command as to love.
But isn’t that what Jesus does so well?
Just when we think we have him all figured out…
Just when we think that we have tamed him…
Jesus throws everything into disarray and confusion.
Just when I think I have him all figured out, I discover that Jesus isn’t who I thought he was.
Like Peter in this evening’s gospel story, who can’t imagine that Jesus the Messiah would come to suffer and serve in the most demeaning and self- emptying way, I find myself baffled and crying out in protest that this isn’t how God is supposed to do things.
I don’t know about you, but the more I try to follow Jesus by taking his words to heart, the more I realize how much Jesus takes me out of my comfort zone.
He tells me to love and to serve the least of these…
Yet I want to judge others who are different from me.
He tells me to love my enemies and to forgive those who do me wrong…
Yet I want to hold a grudge.
He tells me to feed the hungry and clothe the naked…
Yet I want to store up my own treasures in heaven taking care of me and my own first.
Maybe I’m not the only one who has problems following Jesus. Maybe the Church finds it just as difficult to follow Jesus as I do. And maybe that’s the problem.
Stuck in old habits of survival, I wonder if the church has lost its imagination for love. Hearkening back to another era when pews used to be full…
Have we become so obsessed with church survival that we have retreated to safe places failing to see the Kingdom of God all around us?
Have we become so obsessed with survival of our congregations that we have failed to see Jesus has moved into the neighborhood and is inviting us to join him there?
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
Could it really be that simple?
Who else could command us to love, than the One who on this night was put on death row?
Who else could command us to love, than the One who was tortured and executed on a cross of death the next day all the while pleading “Father forgive them”?
Who else could command us to love, than the One who did not stay dead conquering death once and for all?
A recent story on National Public Radio tells the tale of St. Albans Episcopal Church in Davidson, North Carolina which recently erected a statue of Jesus on its property in an upscale neighborhood not too unlike the one here around Incarnate Word.
This is not an “old school” statue of Jesus for it depicts him not with arms outstretched looking down on us from above, but huddled under a blanket with his face and hands obscured; only the crucifixion wounds on his uncovered feet giving him away.
As you can guess, the reaction was immediate. Some loved it; but many did not. Thinking the statue was actually a homeless person, one woman from the neighborhood called the police the first time she drove by. That’s right, someone called the cops on Jesus! (As if that’s never happened to him before).
Another neighbor wrote a letter to the editor saying that the statue “creeped” him out. Many more complained that such a depiction of Jesus was insulting to God and that it demeaned the neighborhood.
So what would Jesus think of a statue depicting him as a homeless man? Would he be insulted or would he tell us that how we treat the least of these is how we treat him? Would he take his toys and go home claiming we had disrespected him or would he tell us to love one another (especially the marginalized and those at the bottom of the heap) as he has first loved us?
Clearly, St. Albans Church has stirred up its neighborhood by challenging folks to not only see Jesus in a new way – but to love in a new way as well. Could Jesus be issuing this same challenge to us? What would you think if we commissioned such a statue at our East Avenue entrance? ( By the way, I know the name of the sculptor and where he lives).
What would the neighborhood think? What would this statue say about us? What would this statue say about Jesus? Perhaps it would say that Jesus takes this love-thing seriously – and so do we.