Scripture Readings: Exodus 12:1–14 | Psalm 116:1–2, 12–19 | 1 Corinthians 11:23–26 | John 13:1–17, 31b–35
Tonight is a holy night: Maundy Thursday, where we gather to retell the story of Christ’s last moments with His disciples before His betrayal, arrest, condemnation, and crucifixion. On this night, our Lord Jesus shared the sacred Passover meal with His disciples… reliving the great story of God’s redemption of Israel from Egypt, centuries earlier… yet pointing ahead to a new and ultimate act of salvation: His own body to be broken. His own blood to be shed for all.
On this night, our Lord Jesus stooped down to serve His students… taking hold of their soiled feet, and washing their filth away. Taking on Himself the lowest status in ways that even Peter found hard to handle… and offering a new vision of it means to be great in God’s eyes.
And on this night, our Lord Jesus gave His followers a new command: that we love one another. “Just as I have loved you,” He says “you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). On this night we have been given the heart of the Christian life: an essential characteristic of a Christian, our Lord tells us, is love for other Christians.
This isn’t an ideal to affirm, but not to really put into practice. Or an optional add-on, for those who want to go above and beyond. This is a commandment. A requirement from our Lord of all who would follow Him. Our “marching order”, so to speak, is to love one another.
This makes no sense at all if what we mean by love is our spontaneous and natural inclinations… our feelings of affection or attraction to others. That’s what much of our culture considers love: our desires for friendship, companionship, and a sense of belonging. But on this night Jesus our Lord gives us a clear definition of what He means by love: that is, commitment… compassion… care… and at the cross: the laying down of one’s life to lift up the life of another.
To live like this… to love like this will certainly shift and shape our desires, but at the heart of things this kind of love is not a feeling to follow… it’s a choice to make. It’s an act of will, and for us, an act of obedience to the one that we call Lord. To the one who laid His own life down for us.
The author and United Methodist Bishop, Will Willimon, recalls what’s going on in wedding vows: “Note that, in the Service of Marriage, the pastor doesn’t ask, ‘John, do you feel like you love Susan?’ The question is, ‘John will you love Susan?’ Love is here defined as an act of the will, something we decide to do, a gift that we promise to give” This night, the new commandment we’re given is to decide to love one another… to choose to commit ourselves to our brothers and sisters in Christ. To give ourselves to one another. Not in the abstract, but in our every day relationships. With the brothers and sisters in Christ we know… those who share these pews… and those who join with us at Christ’s table.
Take a moment to look around the room. Think of those who are not with us this evening, but who have been a part of our Parish family. Think about those we know in other Parishes… those in other denominations. These are the actual people that Christ has commanded us to love “as He has loved us”.
And not only to them, of course… for the Good News of God’s kingdom is meant for all. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
But as the saying goes: “A glass can only spill what it contains.” We can only share with others what we have ourselves first received. We can only invite our neighbours into the new life of Christ’s kingdom, the new life of God’s family, when we are living it out ourselves… when we are practicing patience… forgiveness… humility… hospitality… mercy… faithfulness… not perfectly, of course… but choosing to practice this new life together all the same.
For it is precisely because God’s saving, self-giving love in Jesus Christ is meant to be shared with all the world that we are called to share it with one another. For if we who have received the love of God decide not to love one another… we are turning our back on the Good News that we Christians claims to believe. And how will the world believe us about God’s self-giving love offered to all in Jesus Christ if we chose not to practice it ourselves?
On this night, our Lord says to us: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35).
This love is God’s gift to the world in Jesus Christ, meant to be made known through the life of the Church… through Christians like us who are committed to putting it into practice. This love is what we’re created for, it is God’s life at work in us.
Again, Bishop Willimon has wisdom for us: “Lest you despair at his sweeping command to love, remember that it is within this setting that Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit who gives us what we need to be obedient to Jesus’ command. He does not expect us to love on our own.”
This is what this night is all about: in Jesus Christ our Lord, the Living God offers Himself to us in love… and through His Holy Spirit, is working in us to draw us all together in Him. His new commandment is simply to share with one another the gift He offers to us all… God’s new life, the new creation Jesus has won for us at the cross.
So this night, as we draw near to Christ’s table together, and as we follow Him tomorrow to the cross… let us receive from Him God’s gift of love, and with the Holy Spirit's help, let us give it to one another. Amen.
 William H. Willimon, Thank God It’s Thursday: Encountering Jesus At The Lord’s Table As If For The Last Time (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2013), 58.
 William H. Willimon, Thank God It’s Thursday: Encountering Jesus At The Lord’s Table As If For The Last Time (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2013), 42.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School