Forgiven, Thomas Blackshear II (1955– ), Museum of Biblical Art, Dallas

Fr Neil’s homily on the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 15 May 2022

A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another even as I have loved you.¹

In the biblical readings that we are following at Morning and Evening Prayer in the Daily Office, the people of Israel are at the end of their Exodus wanderings and are ready to cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land. We hear Moses’ last words to the people before he dies². Moses constantly reminds them that God had chosen them and given them the Law so that they might know the glory of God and his divine will. It is their following of the Law that will make them a light to the nations and lead other to seek and find God. Finally he reminds them that the Law is given that they might have life in all its fullness. To follow the Law is the way of a blessed life; to reject it is the path of self-destruction.

In our gospel reading (John 13:31–35 cent), Christ is with his disciples as they celebrate the Passover together. Christ already knows that ‘his hour has come’ as Judas slips away to betray him. Chapters 13 to 17 give us Christ’s extended teaching to his disciples and acts rather like his last will and testament. As the new Moses, Christ seeks to prepare the disciples for what was to come and what was expected of them as the new Israel.

Here he gives them a new commandment to love one another in the same manner that he has loved them. He will demonstrate the extent of the nature of this love in the events which we celebrated in Holy Week. However, what is new about this commandment to love? It’s not as if Christ hasn’t spoken of love before. He summarised the law and the prophets when asked which was the greatest commandment by saying, “The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and body and second is likewise, love your neighbour and yourself.”

This summary of the law wasn’t new and we are left asking how well has the love of God and neighbour panned out for humanity? The love of God is so often diminished to following a set of rules, and rules applied without any notion of love become a means to terrorise and control — much like lockdown. Then the love of neighbour pivots on loving others as we love ourselves. Yet so often the traumas of past and present lead us to moments of self-destruction and self-loathing. That is not the greatest gift we can offer to our neighbour!

The landscape of love needs to be manifested in the flesh and demonstrated for our instruction. To see the manner in which Christ has loved us leaves us in no doubt as to what divine true love looks like. He who was with God and was God emptied himself of all his glory, and became as a slave out of love for a fallen and broken world. Out of love he reached out and touched the outcast, the leper, tax collector and prostitute. There will have been, and will be, moments when we were the outcast to whom Christ calls and reaches out to heal and restore if we but let him. He is the Good Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to find the one that is lost.

This Love, even though he is God, gets upon his knees and washes his disciples’ feet — one of whom was Judas. Christ knows he will betray him and yet he still washes his feet. Can we accept such love and allow him to wash us, even though there will have been times when we have betrayed or been betrayed ourselves?

In love, Christ enters the cruelty of human suffering at the hands of his captors and the abandonment of our alienation. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Can we allow Love to reach through our deep moments of suffering and make some sense of our pain?

In the midst of pain and abandonment, Christ gives Mary as Mother of the Church and us as her children. I know who got the best deal out of that situation! Can love open our arms to Mother Mary’s powerful intercessions?

Christ’s love drives him to traverse death itself, humanity’s ultimate abyss. He conquers so that even death is turned into the service of the beloved and reveals that his love is stronger than even the grave. Only love can enable us to receive and live in the hope of the certain promises of God that there will be a new heaven and earth, where chaos, pain, tears and sadness are no more.

It is the divine Union of Father, Son and Holy Spirit that bears Christ carrying our very humanity into the heart of the Godhead. The place of humanity’s restoration and glorification will not just be a renewed Eden, but an elevation beyond that into the very heart of the Godhead itself — for the sake of love.

This is the commandment that Christ leaves us. This is the unstoppable force that has the capacity to transform any individual, community, society, the entire world and all of creation itself. Without such love the world will burn.

A new Commandment I give unto you, that you love one another even as I have loved you.¹

¹ John 13:34
² Deuteronomy 33

The editorial title is quoted from a hymn by Edmund Spenser (1552–1599).