Previously (as they say on TV)
Through the Lectionary for the Sundays after Easter, God has been initiating a conversation with us through the medium of John’s Gospel. From this conversation we have drawn the following insights into living the new life in Christ.
Despite John’s story of doubting Thomas, the enemy of faith is not doubt, but fear. John’s picture of the disciples hiding away behind locked doors on the evening of the resurrection day is a metaphor for the way we hide from fear by erecting walls and locked doors in our minds. You can refer back to my posting for Easter 2- Behind Locked Doors: A Sermon for Low Sunday
My posting for Easter 3 Lakeside Breakfast and Life Changing Conversation
explored the experience of Peter with Jesus at the lake shore revealing that along with grief, guilt and shame are also powerful fears that come between us and living the new life in Christ.
On reaching Easter 5, God’s evolving conversation with us moves back from the post resurrection appearance, to the events of the Last Supper in John 13. John is not so concerned with depicting the sequence of events, as he is concerned to paint the theological picture known as the Farewell Discourses. During this extended conversation, Jesus reveals the nature of his relationship with the Father, and uses this as the model for how the disciples are to live in community. In the Farewell Discourses, Jesus begins to speak exclusively to the community of his disciples, preparing them for what is coming.
What’s new about the New Commandment?
Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment:
– love one another; as I have loved you, so you are to love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples.
Have you ever wondered why John has Jesus call this a new commandment? The commandment to love God and love your neighbor, as yourself appears also Mark, Matthew, and Luke, each presenting it as the Great Commandment summarizing the Law of Moses. The new element in John is that Jesus offers more than a repetition summary of the Law. John shows Jesus modeling for his disciples a vision of love arising from the experience of being loved.
John, alone offers us a vision of love as an experience conditioned by being loved. There is a logical progression at work here. As Jesus is loved by God, so he shares this love with his disciples. As the disciples are loved by Jesus, so they are to share that love with one another. The point here is that despite John’s use of the word commandment, love is caught, not taught. We are enabled to love, because we first have the experience of being loved.
Shared contexts across time
John’s community struggled with internal, probably irresolvable disputes and tensions. Therefore, the only way for John’s community to hold together was on the basis of relationships forged through love, not through common agreement. This makes John’s community rather like the Episcopal Church where, historically, our unity rested on a notion of right relationship experienced through our willingness to worship together in spite of the lack of political or theological agreement between us.
What does John mean by love? He uses the word agape. The best translation I know for agape is purposeful love. Purposeful love does not require attraction. Neither does it rest on mutual likeability. It does not demand similarity and for that reason is able to bridge across differences. Purposeful love simply recognizes that we must love one another because God has first loved us.
John’s emphasis is upon the internal stability and unity of the Jerusalem Church. Yet, the lectionary places the gospel from John alongside a reading from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. The implication of Peter’s dream, directs us to God’s desire to extend purposeful love beyond the gathered communities of the like minded to embrace a widening of diversities present in the wider world. Of course this wider inclusiveness is the whole purpose of Luke’s writing.
The Episcopal Church rejects the false certainties that paint a world in hues only of blacks and whites. From the 19th Century struggles over slavery, throughout the 20th Century struggles for racial and gender equality, into the 21st Century battle to accept differences in sexual identity as God given, Episcopalians remain where Anglican has always stood. We stand in that place of tension between respect for the Tradition we receive and living with integrity lives that confront the challenges presented by contemporary society.
The Anglican Tradition of the Episcopal Church, shaped by dynamics similar to those faced in John’s Jerusalem Community equips us well for the task of being the community of love in the world of the 21st Century. Acts 11 shows us that God’s intention is wide and inclusive. Our experience as a tradition equips our Trinity Community as Christ’s disciples shaped and formed in particular by a vision of inclusive and purposeful love.
The nature of God’s conversation with us on Easter 5 points us to the need to read John 13:31-35 through the lens of Acts 11:1-8. I am grateful to the Rev. Amy Allen, an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and a fellow in theology and practice at Vanderbilt University in the area of New Testament and early Christianity for referencing in her blog the following quotation of the great Martin Luther King.
Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people…It begins by loving others for their sakes” and “makes no distinction between a friend and enemy; it is directed toward both…Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community.”(http://www.thekingcenter.org/king-philosophy Accessed 04-15-13)