“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 (NIV)
We are the beloved. We know this already. If the Three Days show us anything, it is this. If the entirety of the Gospels tells us anything, it is this. We are loved….deeply, thoroughly, and very soon passionately. We are loved with water and soon with blood.
Today as we celebrate the great command and the great sacrament, we know we are content with being the beloved. We know we are always walking in mercy and that our infidelity and failings are quickly forgiven. We also know that a day that begins with a love shown to us in a humble act involving water ends with a sacrament that involves blood.
Ella Wilcox is right, “the wide world over, one is the beloved and the other the lover.” We know who we are. We are the ones who are drunk on the ways of the world and asleep in the garden, denying and running away and in spite of this we have been washed clean and blood has been spilled on our behalf. A great price has been paid for such a beautiful, but selfish creature as we. We know this. Now we ask what has been asked of us in return.
The Gospel tells us the answer. The price for such a thing is revealed in simple words, “love one another.” So uncomplicated….so easy. At least on the surface. But the mandatum also says “love as I have loved.” Now the demand is greater, for now we are called to the place to not only receive love as we do with Christ and in the life of the Church, but to also give love as does Christ. Now the beloved must also be the lover. On this rests all of Christian ethics.
And soon we will remember the great price that has been paid. The vestments will be stripped and the great statues and icons draped in somber black. Yes, the price paid has been great.
And what has it cost us? In return we are given only one command. “Love!”
What a wonderful word. In English one syllable, four little letters. Yet poems, songs, movies, art, letters, and literature are filled with the word. So often it is our only interest and we have spent so much of our lives trying to assign it meaning. What does it mean? The Gospel account does not tell us this in poem and story or a myriad of words. It says only one thing….”love as He loved.”
The price paid was great. We can do nothing to even the score, our trying would be futile. But there is the command….”Love!” A simple word, but hard to do. We can try and the command is that we must. Certainly we will fail as we often do, but more certainly we will be forgiven as we always are. This is the price paid and the benefit received for being at once a saint and sinner. The cost to us is the cost of discipleship. It is hard work; it is daily struggle. It is these things, but tonight before the sacred meal we will be given the example of how it is to be done and with this example we will know that we can do this very difficult thing which proves to be at the same time so joyous.
Before we acknowledge that he bleeds and dies for us, we will be like Him when we take a simple basin of water and wash one another’s feet. When we touch the feet of others, we will be doing so with the hands of Christ.
Where I work are good and humble people….at once beautiful and strong. Everyday so many fill basins with warm water and wash the bodies of those who the world sees only as vulnerable, those whom the world gives little merit. These are truly doing the work of Christ, who had every reason to see his disciples the way the world sees the those who are served where I do my vocation. The people doing this work are called DSPs and CNAs and they are not doing anything the world gives much thought, but they are doing the only thing we are called to….they are living out the great command given to us today.
Today in a very simple way we do what they do everyday. For one day we take on that courage to do what we are called to do all the days of our lives. For today we will take a basin of water and wash another clean. And we remember he has done this for us and if we live in our baptisms, he does this for us every day we have breath and beyond. And if that was not enough we also remember that he not only washed us, but that He also gave His life for us. In return we must do one simple thing. We must take a basin of water and with it offer the poor a meal, do justice, defend those who have no voice, and speak up against evil. In short our basin of water is really a basin of love. And with this, we who are called to discipleship, must follow his command and bathe the world in His love.
Note: This is an edited version of a post from Maundy Thursday 2012