Amazing Grace  Holy Week  Maundy Thursday:  John

P          On the night of our Lord’s betrayal, Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” This new commandment is at the heart of the meaning of Maundy Thursday. Our Lord was about gracing us with love. And in all the serving humility that comes with such love, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, and encouraged them to be servants of that humble love for the world.

Of all the evangelists, John especially shares this important message of God’s gracious love.

R          Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

P          John was not always so sensitive to the importance of love. John and his brother, James, were fisherman with their father, Zebedee. They would be among the first to be called as Jesus’ disciples. But Jesus gave them another name—“Sons of Thunder.” It is a commentary on their strong and stormy temperament. And they often spoke and acted out that character of zeal and wrath.

On one occasion, they zealously put themselves ahead of the other followers of Jesus as they approached their Lord with a firm request.

R          Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you…. Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.

P          But Jesus chose this as a teaching occasion about the path he must go. “You do not know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” But they still maintained their audacity.

R          We are able.

P          Jesus did not dispute their boldness. Indeed, it would be a useful trait in their faith in years to come. But neither did he dismiss the path to the cross­—not only for himself but also for them as they would learn to carry their own crosses. So Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” The other disciples were aggravated with James and John, but for all the wrong reasons. They thought that these two had beat them to the punch in the pursuit of greatness. They all had yet to learn that true greatness comes in the service of love. It would take the maturation of their faith to understand where Jesus was leading them and to grasp the joy of the grace that comes in loving. “Just as I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” John was loved by his Lord, even when he was himself clueless about that love.

But John was also loveless, harsh, and quick to judgment, even excluding others as if they did not belong to the company of Jesus. This behavior would rear its ugly head on one occasion.

R          Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.

P          Again, he had to be corrected. Jesus said to John, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Yet no sooner had Jesus said these things than another storm cloud from John would burst. While Jesus had set his path to go toward Jerusalem and to the cross, they would pass through a village of Samaritans. These Samaritans, however, did not welcome Jesus in their midst. John would join his brother James in condemning these Samaritans to the wrath of God.

R          Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?

P          Jesus would rebuke them. He would teach them again about how his whole mission has been about extending the grace of love to all, even to those who are enemies. The ugliness of anger, wrath, and even violence has haunted us in all our lives, and has become far too common in our own time. Its only remedy is the path of love that Jesus followed. Only through the cross and the resurrection does it become clear that love has no bounds and should never be restricted from bringing its healing grace.

And so on this night where Jesus’ betrayal is at hand, he extends love to his disciples. He washes their feet. He shares in a meal. And he promises them that, even when the dark storm clouds of judgment and persecution descend upon them, love is what wins. The grace of his love is stronger than all of these. “Just as I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”

We do not know for sure whether John is also the beloved disciple. But what we do know is that John came to a greater faith in Jesus’ love and its gracious power for all. So in the Gospel of John, only the beloved disciple together with women who followed Jesus would be at the foot of the cross. All the other disciples had fled in the fear and foreboding of this time. And while on the cross, Jesus would turn to his own mother and say, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the beloved disciple, “Here is your mother.” Jesus did not mean to call attention to himself on the cross in this moment, but his cross was the means by which the new community of love is created. Grace brings people together. Even as Jesus’ mother Mary was deprived of her son in death, the beloved disciple and she are now joined together as family.

The Church is to be that family of love, bringing that grace of love that knows no bounds. And somewhere along the line in all of this, it finally sunk in to John, beyond all the stubbornness and hard-heartedness that plagued his life, that this crucified love is the message of the gospel. Grace transformed the heart of John—the grace of Christ’s love for him, even unto death. And the new commandment of Jesus would so grace John that it would extend through him to others.

R          This is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another.

P          This gracious love would bring the early church together, and would continue to empower the Church to be its faithful witness. Unfortunately, we all know that within the Church there can be loveless words and acts. This is especially evident when we choose not to be forgiving, even though our Lord forgave us all our sins. Indeed, we need to confess our sin when we do not love our brothers and sisters as we ought but choose to be hardened in our lovelessness.

R          Those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

P          Forgiveness is a grace of Jesus’ love. And it is meant to flow from us, as Jesus encouraged us to pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Even when we are loveless and isolated in our lovelessness, Jesus seeks to bring us to the grace of his love. And Jesus is willing to go all the way through the cross and death for our sake so that we may be loved beyond all things.

John would be the only one of the twelve apostles who would not suffer some cruel and painful execution. Others were crucified or had their bodies brutally killed by unimaginable torture. Yet John would live out his final days in exile. To be sure, his exile was also a persecution by authorities who were themselves loveless and cruel. But he would bring this message of God’s grace and love to the churches, encouraging them in that grace and love to never lose heart but to cling to the promise of Jesus Christ in faith.

R          This is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.

P          The hymnwriter Samuel Crossman also witnessed this far-reaching grace and love of Jesus:

My song is love unknown, my Savior’s love to me,  love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.  Oh, who am I that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh and die?

Even as we sing, we join John and the other followers of our Lord as Jesus makes his journey to the Garden of Gethsemane and on to the cross. We watch with him in Gethsemane as he humbly prays for us in love, that we may be loved by his grace. He faces the suffering and trial in love for all. And in that love for all, he takes up the cross, where he prays that love may even come to those who are his enemies. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus’ love is unbounded. And his love is amazing grace for us and a balm of healing for the whole world.