I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
A new commandment. A new commandment?? God gave the commandment to love one another centuries before Jesus came on the scene. In Deuteronomy, ch.6 we hear this commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength, and your neighbor as yourself. So why does he say that he is about to give a new commandment?
It was at Passover that Jesus gathered with his disciples, as they had done before, and as Jews all over Israel gathered, to remember the story described in today’s first reading. God’s people were once slaves in Egypt. An angel would “pass over” those households that were marked with the blood of a lamb that had been sacrificed. The firstborn of those households without this sign—both animals and humans—would be destroyed.
It’s a violent story, a troubling story if we take any time at all to ponder the idea of a loving God killing firstborn creatures of all kinds, any age, even the innocent. Is this what we believe about God?
Every morning I open our front door, I go outside, I pick up and bring into the house what we call a “newspaper.” I have found that I spend very little time reading the newspaper because although we call it “news” it’s not really new at all. I glance at the headlines on each page and can pretty easily see that many—most—stories are about conflict, violence, competition, fear, anxiety. How are these things “new,” and why do I need to know about them?
Or, maybe you check the news online, watch the “news” on TV, or listen to the “news” on the radio. Is it any different?
What we devote our time and energy toward is most likely the direction our hearts and attitudes will follow. Jesus said, By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Love is the primary mark of Christian discipleship.
What do you think? What do people see? Do they know that we are disciples of the one who gave us this commandment?
Jesus was right. This is a new commandment. Every day the command to love one another is new because every day we forget. And, by God’s grace, every day we remember. Every Sunday we gather to remember by sharing and re-enacting that meal that reminds us of who God is and who we are. We remember through this meal that has love at its center. We remember that at that first communion there was fear, confusion, betrayal, and grief. There was also gratitude for the opportunity to gather in the name of Jesus and in the presence of Jesus. At the table, as in the rest of our lives, it’s a mess.
But at this table, in the midst of lives that can be marked by broken hearts, broken promises, broken bodies and broken dreams, the only thing we break is bread. For a few minutes each Sunday, and again tonight, we focus our hearts on what was broken, what is broken, out of love for us, and for all people. The bread that we break in this meal is a sign of love.
In our violent and broken world, love will always be new. The “good news” we receive is the good news we share. The good news we receive in the meal and in the Word each week shapes us as we return to our places of ministry, in homes, schools, factories, and offices. By this everyone will know that you are his disciples, if you have love for one another. AMEN