Love as I Have Loved You

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.

 Welcome to the first service of the “Triduum,” a word that just means “three days.” These three days are special for Christians. Tonight, we celebrate the Last Supper and Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet. Tomorrow, on Good Friday, we mark his betrayal, condemnation, and death. On Saturday morning, we spend some time with Christ in the tomb, on that terrible day when no one knew what would come next, when the disciples were likely hiding out, fearful of their own arrest. And Saturday night we celebrate the Great Vigil of Easter, when God brings light back into the world and Christ is raised from the dead.

Historically, we haven’t celebrated all the services in the Triduum every year at Holy Cross, and I think that because of that we have been missing something. We have missed the grand sweep of Holy Week — of moving from the entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to Jesus’ last night with his disciples on Maundy Thursday, to his Crucifixion on Good Friday to his Resurrection at the Great Vigil — of going from what looks like triumph to what seems to be failure and tragedy, but then turns to the true victory. When we skip parts, we miss seeing it all.

The services in the Triduum — Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, the Great Vigil — aren’t really four separate services, but one long liturgy that traces the last days of Jesus’ life before his crucifixion and his final triumph over the powers of death. Tonight, we begin that journey at the Last Supper, with Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, and with his commandment that they love one another in the same way that he loved them. The word “maundy” is from the Latin “mandatum,” and simply means a command. We remember Jesus’ last night with his disciples by re-enacting the foot washing.

But in tonight’s gospel reading, we really don’t get a full picture of all of the things that happened at that last gathering. The gospel reading is focused on the foot washing and on Jesus commandment that the disciples — and by extension we — love one another — in his words “Just as I have loved you.” I’m going to stick with those two themes, but sometimes with the Lectionary you don’t get the whole picture. You only get bits and pieces and you have to read before and after the assigned reading to get context, to get the full meaning, and sometimes to see things you hadn’t seen before.

I had to go back and reread the entire chapter in John to verify something that I had suspected. In the timeline John gives, it’s after he washed to disciples’ feet that Jesus began to explain that one of them will betray him. And it’s after this exchange that Judas leaves.

It’s after the foot washing that this conversation takes place.

So, Judas left after Jesus washed all the disciples’ feet. 

And Jesus washed all the disciples’ feet.

Jesus washed Judas’ feet.

Let’s think about that. Jesus demonstrated his love and service even to the one who was going to betray him. He still washed his feet.

Let me repeat that once more: Jesus washed Judas’ feet.

Jesus washed the feet of the disciple who would betray him. He washed the feet of the disciple he knew would betray him. He washed the feet of the disciple who would turn him over to the hierarchy to be tortured and killed, like a common criminal. Jesus washed the feet of one who would become one of the most reviled and hated people in history.

How is this possible?  How can you possibly show that kind of love to someone like that — someone who has turned against you? Is this what Jesus meant when, in the telling of Matthew and Luke, he said “Love your enemies. Do good to those that hate you”? What does it mean to love someone so much — someone who wants to do you harm — that you would treat them like one of your closest friends?

It is possible because this is the love of God. This is the love that God has for us, a love that is totally unconditional, that continues no matter what we do, no matter how badly we screw up, no matter how much we rebel against Him. A love continues whether we love Him or not.

This is the love that God has show to us through His son. And yes, this is what he meant when he told us to love our enemies.

St. Catherine of Siena — a Dominican, by the way — wrote of a conversation with God, the Dialogue. In one of my favorite passages, God says to Catherine, “I require that you should love Me with the same love with which I love you. That indeed you cannot do, because I loved you without being loved. All the love which you have for Me you owe to Me, so that it is not of grace that you love Me, but because you ought to do so. While I love you of grace, and not because I ought to do so.

“Therefore to Me, in person, you cannot repay the love which I require of you, and I have placed you in the midst of your fellows, that you may do to them that which you cannot do to Me, that is, that you may love your neighbor of free grace, without expecting any return from him, and what you do to him, I count as done to me.”

And this is the love that Jesus commanded us to have. The same love that he had. The love that loves without expecting love in return, without expecting anything in return. Love even for one who will betray you. Love for someone you know means you harm. Love without exception. A love that is so expansive and unselfish that it takes in everyone.

It’s…not easy. There are people in this world that I, personally, find very difficult to love. And yet, this is what our Lord has told us to do. And we have to realize that there is no way that we can do it on our own. In and of ourselves, we will always find people we are incapable of loving. But we can channel God’s love if we let Him work through us. 

Let us pray to God for the grace to love others without picking and choosing who to love, without deciding who is worthy of love. For the grace to love without exception or reservation. To simply…love, as Jesus commanded.

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