The Fifth Sunday of Easter
The Very Reverend Nicolette Papanek, Interim Dean
John 13:31-35

May my words be your Word and my heart rest in you as I speak, O Lord. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

If today’s Gospel reading seems like something you’ve heard recently, congratulations. It probably means you were here on Maundy Thursday.

The short piece of John’s Gospel we have today is from the longer reading that describes the Last Supper where Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. Jesus demonstrated to all of the disciples, including Judas, the one who betrayed him, what real love looks like. Christians have that same opportunity to witness and practice Jesus’ love that is far greater than the world’s idea of love.

We live in a world that loves cheaply. Worldly love is an emotion. Worldly love is something that comes and goes as it pleases, something over which we have no control. Love lingers where it will and leaves when it likes. Love is something outside us, beyond our control.

For Christians, though, love ceases to be an emotion and becomes a policy. The love Jesus speaks about requires daily application. Christian love – the love Jesus demonstrates to his disciples – is love that goes far beyond emotion. Christian love has a sense of God working in all things and through all things. Christian love sees the expansiveness of God’s work, rather than the shrinking or diminishing aspects of hatred and violence. Christian love is love that is able to see the big picture and know that in God’s good time, even though some people or institutions or things may suffer, the love we have demonstrated will allow God the space God needs to work. Christian love is not “small love.” Instead, Christian love is “large love.” Christian love is “extreme love,” love that expands rather than contracts.

Love for a Christian means loving even when we feel unloving or unloved. It means being willing to set aside prejudices and opinions long enough to really hear one another. It means honoring differing opinions.

Christian love continues loving even when loving is impossibly difficult. Christian love stays at the table and looks in the eye of the person across the table and says, “I honor you. I hear you. I differ from you, but we are still here.” Christian love witnesses to the world by continuing to sustain itself as a community of believers, whether or not everyone agrees.

In the ancient church, even in bitter disagreements, people referred to one another as “believers”. And, those bitter disagreements seem rather ridiculous to most of us when we read about them today. I wonder if the disagreements of our time will seem just as ridiculous to the people who come after us…

Disciples of Jesus are called to witness to the world with our love. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another,” Jesus says. These words in John’s gospel were spoken after Judas betrayed Jesus. They were spoken when Jesus knew he was on his way to the cross. They were spoken to disciples Jesus knew would desert him and deny him. Yet Jesus loved them, and begged them to love one another as he loved them.

When I was in seminary I worked in a nursing home as a part-time chaplain. The chaplain’s office was on the third floor, which also happened to be the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Unit.

Each day as I came to work, I greeted and was greeted by the residents and staff on the Unit. There was one lady who could not walk and was no longer verbal. Unable to speak, she sat in her wheelchair, and as someone walked by, no matter who it was, no matter if she knew them or not, she opened her arms wide and did this: kiss-kiss, kiss-kiss. It did not matter to her at all who it was, or whether they were in a good mood or a bad mood, whether they were loving to her or mean to her, to everyone she offered love. It was all she had left to offer.

There is a legend, told by St Jerome about St John. St Jerome was a cranky old coot, by the way, but he wrote that in St John’s old age, his dotage, he was reduced to repeating a single phrase. Over and over, when anyone would approach St John, he would say, “My little children, love one another”. “My little children, love one another.”

We are witnesses for this love. This is our time to witness. This is the table of love. This is the table to which Jesus calls us. Come and receive the love. Then go and witness to the love. “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. AMEN.

The Very Rev. Nicolette Papanek