John 13:31-35 – The New Commandment
When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
This new commandment is a moment that happens in between two important events: Jesus acknowledging to Judas that he knows he will betray him, and Jesus foretelling Peter’s denial.
The new commandment is given that we love one another. Just as Jesus loved us, so should we love one another. By this, everyone will know that we are Jesus’ disciples, *if* we have love for one another.
It seems that we don’t truly understand what love means.
Love means forgiving the one you know will betray you.
Love means forgiving the one you know will deny you.
Love means forgiving those who say they’ll pray with you, but fall asleep instead.
Love means forgiving the system which will wrongfully incarcerate and crucify you.
Today, in Kabul, Afghanistan, the U.S. military has for the first time used in combat the 22,000-pound bomb nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” the largest non-nuclear weapon in the U.S. military’s arsenal. The bomb was targeting an ISIS cave complex in eastern Afghanistan.
Formally known as the GBU-43 or Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb, the bomb has been nicknamed the “mother of all bombs” since it was first developed in 2003.
The mother of all bombs.
This is an offensive misnomer. Mothers are creators and sustainers of life, not death.
Today is Maundy Thursday, the day in which we remember the new commandment Jesus gave to his Disciples. (“Maundy” comes from the Latin mandatum, which means “commandment.”) This is the first of our three holy days leading up to Easter. It is typically recognized with footwashing, prayer, and a meal that symbolizes the Passover Seder. Today is seen as the preamble to Good Friday, in which a collective breath is taken as we wait for the worst possible thing to happen.
I’ve been praying the Lord’s Prayer every day at noon for a year. Most days, I say it in a blur, appreciative of how easily the words come to me. But today, I could barely make it through them.
My thoughts hitched as they stumbled over the words, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
What have we done, O Lord. We live in a world where we try to exact our will upon it. We try, relentlessly, to manage control over forces beyond it.
So, we ask for forgiveness.
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…”
But, did it ever occur to you that God’s forgiveness might be conditional, based on our own capacity to forgive?
This is why Jesus models it for us on this night. He gives us a new commandment, to love one another, and he offers us a way to experience and remember God’s grace. “Take, eat. This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” He gave up his life for us, friends. A body, a life, given for us. And, what do we do in response? We deny, we betray, we turn away, we sleep, we drop bombs as if death can somehow combat death.
While writing my Easter Sermon on Resurrection, and hearing the news of the bomb that has just been dropped, in the wake of other bombs dropped last week, and who knows how many others which may fall, I can’t help but be reminded of this:
William Stringfellow, an Episcopalian lay theologian, prayed for Nixon’s exorcism, calling him a “barbarian,” whose conduct was “distinguished by violence, savagery, lust, malevolence, avarice, and an overwhelming contempt for human life.”
Stringfellow tried to correct those who vilified Nixon as if he were the power of death itself. “Nixon had merely cooperated with the power of death with perverse purity that eroded positive cultural values and brought the nation’s violent self-destructiveness to a bizarre fruition.” (From Prophet of Justice, Prophet of Life: Essays on William Stringfellow, quote by Gary Commins.)
Exorcism is the casting out of the spiritual forces of wickedness, the presence of evil, Death itself.
As I prayed today, I realized that the Lord’s Prayer is a form of exorcism. “Deliver us from evil,” we pray each Sunday. Today, we pray it in defiance of the powers and principalities which are warring for dominion. Stringfellow believed the use of military force was truly blasphemous; it is the idolatry of stealing God’s power over creation and attempting to control what is not ours to control.
Even as I pray for the world’s deliverance from evil, I will also pray for God to forgive us all.
Donald Trump, Richard Nixon, ISIS, Adolf Hitler, United Airlines, Sean Spicer. Me, You, The neighbor who mows his yard too early.
The friend who never calls you first.
The daughter when she neglects to vacuum the house, even though it was the *one* thing you asked her to do this afternoon.
The disproportionate anger in response.
Yes, all. Please God, forgive us all.
We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So, deliver us, all of us, from evil.
Resurrection is God’s promise that life can triumph over death, even as the actions of this world continue to give Death the power and authority which belong only to God.
But today, let us remember the new commandment: to love one another, just as Jesus loved us.