John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Love. Love one another. This is the new commandment. We hear it year after year – so much so that it almost becomes trite or boring. But that doesn’t mean we’ve mastered it. We, as a people, have been hearing these words for more than 2,000 years, and we still struggle to obey this commandment.
Earlier this week I saw a sort of provocative revelation on Twitter. I don’t remember exactly who it was from, so I regret that I can’t give fair attribution. But the person asked, “What would you do if you knew it was your last day on Earth?” He replied to his own question like most of us would. He talked about things he’d eat and drink. He talked about ways that he’d indulge if he didn’t need to be concerned about the future. He talked about scores he’d settle and things he’d get off his chest. But then he remembered: Jesus knew it was his last day. And he spent it gathering with his closest friends. He spent it serving them. And he spent it imploring them to love, no matter what.
Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry is fond of saying, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” That’s one of those sayings that I think it’s helpful to repeat to ourselves from time to time – maybe even as a daily mantra – but particularly now, during Holy Week. The stories we encounter are so heavy. There is betrayal and denial; mob mentality and violence. There is even death.
In the midst of it all, the church sometimes gets lost in ritual and busyness. When we talk about it, we’re too often burdened by dogma. In one of the Episcopal groups I’m a part of on Facebook, I witnessed downright meanness from folks about the appropriate ways to commemorate Holy Week, and the right liturgical colors, and whether or not flowers were allowed, or brass and silver, and other things like that. People were basically fighting over these things. They were expressing their opinions as facts and berating anyone who offered a different perspective.
It made me cringe. Because, even though these are often the kinds of things we consume ourselves with at church – in Holy Week, certainly, but not just in Holy Week – they are so very far from the real point of our observances. They are so far from the point of our worship.
The real heartbeat that pulses through every aspect of Holy Week is love. If it’s not about love, it’s not about God. And that’s our mandate as Christians – not anything but love. It’s not about how beautiful or inspiring our worship is to be. It’s not about how well-maintained our facilities or our gardens should be. It’s not about how grand our buildings can be or how big the number might be that we can enter into our service registers. It’s not about how pure our doctrines are, or how strictly we adhere to the rules. The only mandate is to love. To the degree that any of those things enable and support love, they are good. The moment that they stand in the way, they cease to be of God. Because if it’s not about love, it’s not about God.
Sometimes people say that they don’t like Holy Week because it can feel a little too heavy. And it is. It’s serious stuff, and it’s very heavy. But remember that it’s about love. Love can help carry the burdens that make this life feel heavier. Love can support us through sad times and grief, and love can make the joy we experience sweeter, still.
Love one another. This is the commandment. This is our mandate. It is both our goal, and also our only hope for achieving it.