The gospel reading from the lectionary is very brief this week. But even if we read it out of context it packs quite a great deal into just a few words. “Love one another as I have loved you.” Words that are basic enough for the newest Jesus follower to understand, and words that carry enough impact to make the life-long follower of Christ fold to his or her knees in prayer for failing to do so. The basics of the Christian faith are so basic and straight forward, and they are so hard to do with any consistency. It’s easy to get down on yourself, or get nervous that you are not good enough. This is where reading this passage in context really makes it flower.Jesus is gathered with his disciples. He has just washed their feet. Judas has just left the gathering. He is about to warn Peter that Peter will betray him. Jesus is going to be glorified through the horrible crucifixion and the mysterious resurrection. And he doesn’t tell them to love each other as much as possible, or as much as family, but to love like he loves. Set in the context of the one glorified by God who stoops to wash the feet of the betrayer (Judas) and the denier (Peter) and then die for the salvation of the world, we recognize that we will fall short. But we recognize that even these disciples who Jesus himself called and mentored fall short.
The most haunting part of the passage is when Jesus tells them they cannot come along. These are the guys he has invited to follow. We want to follow Jesus. But he explains at the very beginning of the next chapter that he will return and take them with him. Something changes on the cross and in the empty tomb. Something big. And only Jesus can accomplish it. Jesus, the Son of Man. Jesus, the one whose life, actions, and being glorify God, and who is glorified by God. At the cross Jesus defeats death and sin, and he unleashes love upon the world. Love that is the foundational characteristic of God and God’s Chruch.
We may fall short, but the empty tomb of Christ tells us that love is not in vain. Certainly we need to confess to God those times where we struggle and fall short, but we also must know that the Kingdom is come near, and we are loved and we can love.