I know I’m showing my age, but I’m sure I’m not the only person listening to this sermon who remembers Linda Ronstadt singing “It’s so easy to fall in love, it’s so easy to fall in love.” Sometimes I think we forget that it may be easy to fall in love, but all the time after you fall isn’t so easy—it isn’t so easy to continue to love.
I think Jesus knew this hard truth. And I think he tried to vaccinate his disciples against the difficulty of life after his death, after whatever came next. Our Scripture lesson today comes from the story of the last hours of Jesus found in the gospel of John. The disciples have gathered for the Passover and while at table Jesus has insisted on washing their feet. Then he talks about betrayal, and follows that up with the famous line “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)
“Do not be troubled,” Jesus says, probably to a very confused bunch of people. He reminds them that he is the way, and the truth, and the life. And then he says what we read this morning—the Johanine version of Pentecost—I am going away, but I will ask God to give you another Advocate—the Spirit of Truth. I am not abandoning you, I am not leaving you as an orphan. I will be right here—in another way.
Love and commandment and keeping commandments and love bounce back and forth in these verses: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”; and “they who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them” (and how could they not hear echoing in their minds, the words he had just spoken, ‘I give you a new commandment, to love one another’).
Love is a commandment, and keeping the commandments is keeping to love—which all hearkens back to what in the other gospels is called the Greatest Commandment—Love the Lord your God with all of you (heart, soul, mind and strength) and Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus was desperate to instill a mantra that would echo in his disciples minds—during the terrible hours of suffering and death that were to come; during the confusion and dislocation and world shattering events of resurrection and appearances; during the excitement and energy following the release of the Spirit in their midst; during the weeks that became months that became years that became decades that became centuries that became millennia. That is why Jesus forecasts: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
Yes, it’s so easy to fall in love—but we all know that love leaves us open to heartache and pain. If the loved one goes away by choice, it is difficult. But if the one we love is ripped from us, or lost memory by memory, or however it is that they slip from our grasp and move into another realm—that leaves a hole that seems bottomless.
We all have wake stories or graveside stories—images of people who are stark in their grief, inconsolable in their pain, making sounds like the wounded animal they are. Saying goodbye is hard, and we have all had to say goodbye to many things recently.
--Some of us have had to say goodbye to loved ones (and to the rituals surrounding death that provided us some comfort).
--Some have had to say goodbye to a job or work environment and have had to scramble to adjust.
--In the last weeks, we all have had to say goodbye to the way things were: when we didn’t have to make sure we had a mask and gloves if we considered going out of the house; when restaurants were open and you could eat inside; when you could go to the movies, go shopping, go to a concert or a play or a sporting event; when life seemed free and easy (as we look back).
You can see how hard it is to say goodbye by how angry some people are right now. Standing, unmasked, with signs proclaiming their rights; standing, large guns slung over their shoulders, insisting that they be able to go back to the way it was; or even, throwing fake body bags on capitol steps by those who fear we should not be opening up this quickly.
It is hard to say goodbye. Especially if you are not yet willing to admit the leave-taking is actually happening.
Jesus had been trying to let the disciples in on the difficult truth of his leave-taking, but they didn’t seem able to get it. So, he made one last stab at making sure they didn’t lose the main message—LOVE as a commandment, LOVE, not as an easy thing, but LOVE as the difficult thing it is.
LOVE as the hard work of being in relationship even with those we don’t like. LOVE as the catalyst for taking care of one another made real by stooping to wash one another’s feet. LOVE as the bottom line, the only line that has any importance in Jesus’ eyes. LOVE as the meme—“they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
Rev. Miren Tirabassi writes
Jesus wanted to point out
that there was going to be nothing simple
about saying “good-bye,”
not to him or anyone else. In fact,
it would be so hard
that loving one another
needs to become a commandment –
(“Jesus says ‘Goodbye,’ Seasons of the Spirit, May 17, 2020)
Tirabassi’s words made a lot of sense to me as we began to hear about the newest divide in our country: the masked versus the unmasked. Some see it as an issue of “rights” like the discussions we have had over the years about seatbelts and helmets and tobacco smoke. More of us (I hope) see it as an issue of respect and love (since the mask is intended to protect others from you, rather than protecting you from others).
I now can’t find the story, but I recently read about a young woman who had come home two years ago to help her dad who had a brain tumor. He is now in a wheelchair, but they enjoy going out for “walks” in their neighborhood. What she wrote in her opinion piece was how touched she was when she realized that people crossed the street when they saw them coming. They weren’t just giving them a six foot berth—they were “protecting” him by staying far, far away.
That is an example of what I think Jesus was pointing towards. LOVE, the hard thing, that makes us conscious of everything and everyone around us, and gives them priority—especially those who need it most. That is something we will need to hold onto, and we travel into this weird future. That Jesus gave us a new commandment, so we wouldn’t forget. And it is all about LOVE, all about LOVE of others, which insists on community, is based on sharing, and draws us into the not easy work that Jesus was all about.
I could end by saying, “All you need is love…” but we know better. Thank God for each other, and our Advocate Spirit helping us in our world. Alleluia, Amen.