I remember sitting in worship one Sunday morning when I was about eight or nine years old. We were in the season of Lent – something I only knew because our church bulletin listed the Sunday of the church year in a bold heading at the top of the page (e.g. Fifth Sunday of Lent). My pastor was sharing some announcements during the service, and he invited all of us in the congregation to come to a Holy Week service that Thursday. I thought he called it “Monday Thursday,” which nearly sent me into a fit of giggles. What could “Monday Thursday” even mean?
A few years later, I learned that the proper name was Maundy Thursday (although many traditions instead call it “Holy Thursday”) – “Maundy” from the Latin word mandatum, meaning “commandment.” In the upper room as Jesus shared a meal with his disciples, and as he left them with his final teaching before he would be handed over to death, Jesus gave them a new commandment.
John 13:34 – “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Love is a word that has a lot of miles on it.
Love is a word that gets inserted into touchy political debates to prove that one side or the other has it right. We use the word “love” to describe feelings of romance, or how much we enjoyed a meal. We love our children, and we love a sports team. Love has become a word that can mean anything from superficial enjoyment to a long-lasting connection to one’s spouse, children, or parents. Sometimes we use it to imply commitment, and other times we use it to convey desire or excitement. We use the word so often that this commandment of Jesus doesn’t really feel new to us.
But what does it really mean to love?
John 15:12-13 – “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Love is sacrifice. Love is self-giving. Love is kneeling down and washing grungy feet. Love is setting aside comfort, prestige, status or honor for someone else’s sake.
When I stop and consider the way that Jesus loved and the way he demonstrated humility and service in the finals days of his earthly life, this commandment feels new every time I read it. It convicts me, takes hold of me, and renews me. And it humbles me. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. The One who was existent before the world began knelt at the feet of common people and served them. The bread of heaven shared bread with his friends. Victory through defeat. Life through death. Strength in weakness. Power in humility.
John 13:35 – “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus tells us this is how the world will know we are his disciples. The way we love is a measuring stick by which others will know to whom we belong. Saying we love God isn’t enough. Words aren’t enough. Jesus taught his disciples what love was, and then he demonstrated it. He took upon himself the curse of sin, endured unspeakable suffering, and spread his arms open wide in the ultimate act of self-giving. This is love. This is how they will know we are his disciples.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.