Love in Easter's Wake
I couldn’t make it to a Good Friday service this year. Instead, returning to my liturgical roots, I found a nearby Maundy Thursday service. Weeks of preparation through lent, real palm branches to wave (and hours of entertainment) on Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday services were all part of my growing-up years. Those nights were always somber, contemplative and rich in depth, even to my young memory. And that’s where I found myself this year, on the day before Friday.
On the Thursday leading to Easter, Jesus shared with His closest friends a final meal and departing words. They call it “Maundy,” not because it’s an impressive French word, but rather it speaks to what happened that night. It means command or mandate. It was in those intimate, around-the-table, last words, that Jesus gave a new mandate, the new command. That night marked a commissioning to love of an entirely different order – one the world had yet to see, at least until the following days’ events unfolded.
In those last words moments, Jesus told them He would go away for a time. In His physical absence, He would entrust his friends and followers with this new command: “Love one another. As I have loved, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
This is what I came to remember, and to honor, centuries later, at the Maundy Thursday service of a church down the road. Evidence of the love the holiday remembers met me before I made it through the door. An older woman found me with an outgoing, ‘hello’. Then just past the doorway, a pastor-friend, well connected in the One Hope community (our area’s relational network of pastors and leaders who are choosing to love one another, while praying and serving together), greeted me with a warm hug. Seated and surveying the room, my eyes caught familiar faces - across the way an old teacher; a friend’s mom to my left; and a few rows over, an acquaintance. As another leader-friend passed, she grabbed my shoulder with a kind greeting. Before the service began, my heart was full.
The warmth and diversity of the people around, representing many seasons and facets of my life, made the remembering all the more real. And that’s just the one nearby church I went to for convenience’s sake! On strong supporting evidence, I think I would’ve found a similar scene in churches all around town. It was an expression of the Jesus-commissioned love He asked of His disciples: Friends and followers of Jesus – not alienated by tradition, history or church building, but bonded by love of a heavenly-variety. This message of love found in the God and Person, Christ Jesus, transcends all the things we permit to separate us. It was on this common ground we gathered.
In seeing a small representation of Jesus’ blood-bought people in the room, my mind quickly ran to the believers I know spread throughout my city; our love for one another and how many would gather around our Risen Savior over the weekend’s course. There is a wealth of people spread across our community, joined by this love. What a comfort and confidence! In our unity, we are growing in our practice of the new command Jesus gave the very night we were commemorating. Moreover, HIS sacrifice provided the grounds for our unity.
THE TEST OF LOVE + UNITY
Now, consider the ordeal Jesus’ first-century friends experienced in the days following that meal: Jesus’ brutal death, their lives threatened, Him being raised to life against all hope, and His return to heaven (where He still lives now- Hallelujah!!). It must have taken them years to process and catch up with it – the grief and the ecstasy, the trauma and the miracle.
As they recounted the moments, trying to make sense of all that transpired, this mandate to love still resounded in their memory. In rehearsing His parting words, with the visual of the cross etched in their minds, the love mandate now found its definition in His demonstrated sacrifice.
“Love one another as I have loved you…”
They shared common experiences: the trauma of His suffering, the drama of heaven’s heart displayed, and the victory of Jesus’ resurrection. Though when it came down to real life, the disciples were still themselves. Matthew was well-acquainted with James’ pride and self-promotion issue. John certainly knew of Peter’s tendency to make rash decisions and lack of self-control... and that he would lose in a foot race. Phillip knew Thomas’ need to see everything before believing. They knew who snored and who complained the most. They saw the fall of one of their own. And in their common weakness, each had strayed from Jesus in his darkest hours. In the ins and outs of daily relationship, their love would be put to the test in all sorts of “rubber meets the road” ways.
They knew full well one another’s humanness, and their own. Though, now, joined by common experience, they began to see one another in the light of Christ’s sacrifice. For greater love as no one than this…
Today this bond still exists. I’ve seen it. In Jesus, we’re united by this same blood that covers all sin. We share in this same act of love. We’re bound not by mere beliefs about God, but the Man Jesus Himself. Joined by this common experience of being forgiven, made guiltless and new, and brought into forever-life now – we’re one in the knowing of Christ Jesus. We know Him, we follow Him, and we find ourselves with a shared destiny.
I saw this love mandate happening the week after Easter too. A few days after each hosting their own Easter gatherings, eighty-some pastors and leaders gathered around the One they’d all just proclaimed as the Risen One. With laughter, jokes, hugs and all the fun and comradery that comes with being in the same family, they gathered. Cheers and applause erupted, as one-by-one they shared the Easter stories of the King of Love being made know in their individual churches. The sound of rejoicing drowned out the temptation that nagged to compete and compare. These sisters and brothers, adopted in the same family, though keenly aware of one another’s humanness, are learning to walking in the new command Jesus left us until His soon-return.
Like Jesus’ first followers, we’re aware of minor differences, preferences, humanness and debatable matters that stand to divide. They’ve found it requires a humble change of perspective, but living in the new command is possible. This love, cultivated, sacrificial and covenantal, requires all. Though, it does not come without cost, they’ve endeavored to do it, being living answers to Jesus’ prayer in John 17. The common ground Jesus provided is where they gather every time. There is perfect unity in the common experience of the Savior’s love and rescuing mercy. It’s found as we see one another in the light of Christ’s sacrifice, and so honor the church down the road – for the same blood covers us all.
Holidays are great. They hold spots on the calendar reserved for remembering, reflecting and celebrating. Though the greater honor is to live in the light of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday all year round. Let’s do that, in the way we love one another.
Many times over, we’ll see nothing can separate us from Christ’s love we have for one another. And we’ll find there are gems in our community, full of Jesus, just expressed in different ways. In taking one step outside of our preference, we’ll find this love, just like the joy I found this Maundy Thursday.
P.S. In writing this, I hope to share my perspective on the unity of Jesus’ followers in our community. My spot on the wall provides me a unique perspective. I hope to help you see, from your spot on the wall – how deep and wide and great and vast is the love of Christ being expressed in the relationships of ALL God’s people in our region. Because it’s great. It is too vast to be contained in one expression. It’s a fullness too full to be captured by one church family. So stay tuned for “growing up in a gospel movement.”