Well we are nearing the end of Holy Week and that means we are getting to the good stuff. Today we commemorate the Last Supper and the new command Jesus gave to “love one another.” Tomorrow we end up at the cross and who knows what might happen on Sunday morning? (I know, but it isn’t as much fun if you admit it.)
But no matter what the weekend holds, today we eat of the bread and drink of the cup with Jesus. Some of us may even wash a foot or two.
All of this is to remind ourselves that Holy Week is ultimately about love. “Maundy” means “commandment” or “mandate” and “Mandate Thursday” is about the new commandment recorded in John 3:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another.”
Whatever else happens this weekend, we remember that as Christ followers, we are following love wherever love may go.
Most of us know that the disciples followed Jesus out of the upper room and into the garden of Gethsemane but there the following ended. When guards showed up to arrest Jesus, they chose not to follow but to flee.
Mark focuses on two particular disciples. The first fights. He draws a sword and uses it to cut off the ear of a guard. The second flees and in so doing ends up naked.
Both the zealous swordsman and the naked runner represent ways that we betray love. The zealous swordsman, presumably clinging to his hope of a military Messiah, refuses to see Jesus for who Jesus is. By taking up arms and lashing out for the sake of power, he rejects love, choosing might instead. He does not deny himself but seeks to save himself or, worse, save God with his sword.
The naked runner too betrays love, by fleeing from it. He is also seeking to save himself but his legs are his sword, the means by which he escape the consequences of love.
As we recommit ourselves today to this new mandate to love one another, I wonder about the ways we still betray love. I think we forget that sometimes love has negative consequences.
In today’s world “love” poorly defined has become the way we try to solve all the problems. I hear social activists, politicians, celebrities and, yes, even pastors claiming that if we just love people enough suddenly violence will end, addicts will become sober, the attendance of all Christian churches in America will double, unicorns will sprout from the ground and the federal budget will get balanced.
I wonder what will happen to those types when instead of unicorns, guards sprout up to arrest us. Will we then betray love by drawing a sword? Or will we flee from the scene naked?
For this reason, I am always a little bit frustrated when people suggest the best evangelism strategy is love. They mean well and I am all about practicing compassion, but we don’t practice compassion to double our attendance. Love is not a means to another end. Love is the end, the telos, the goal for which we strive.
This side of eternity true love does not reward us but instead has consequences. When we love the world, the world will hate us back. When we show compassion to one person, someone else is going to jeer, “What worth are they? You are sinning by loving them!” All of our motives will be called into question and we may even be arrested just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When we love truly, we should not expect unicorns and swords but rejection, humiliation and crosses.
Therefore, the words of Jesus in John 15, after the “new commandment” are all the more important, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
As we follow love out of the upper room and into the garden, may we not fight or flee but follow, not for any other goal but to be completely enraptured in the love of our God. And may our tombs be emptied on Sunday morning as we embrace the new life of love.