We Really Don't Know Love at All
As Joni Mitchell sang "we really don't know love at all." As proof I offer the ancient Collect of the Day where we pray that we may love what God commands, and Luther's post-Communion Collect where we ask God to "strengthen us in fervent love toward one another." As further proof I offer the fact that it is in the name of love the world calls us to murder babies, pray with pagans, and sanction gay marriage. No we really don't know love at all, and we better find out about it quick. We say in our Confessions, "For the fact that one does not love is a sure indication that he is not justified (FC, SD, III, 27). That's strong, but that's what 1 John 3:14 says too: "Anyone who does not love remains in death."
The first stop in our quest to find out about love is to descend into the depths of the cross. This is where our text starts. Judas has just gone out of the upper room to betray Jesus. Jesus is betrayed by a trusted friend one whom He loved to the end. That's how the chapter our text comes from begins. "Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end."
This betrayal by one Jesus loved will lead to Jesus being rejected by the church and crucified by the state. As bad as that sounds, Jesus says it's the glorification of Him and the Father. How is God glorified by God the Son suffering and dying innocently on a cross? God's glory is doing the undoable, saving the unsaveable, redeeming the irredeemable. Pagan gods save the savable, love the loveable, help the deserving, mercy the merciful. The true God's glory is to give His gifts to the good and the evil, the just and the unjust. What greater gift is there than His own Son, so what greater glory than to give Him?
If you want to know love, descend into the depths of the cross. See the perfect Jesus sent by His Father bearing the awful load of your sin and guilt. Don't see Him doing this begrudgingly but lovingly. See the Father taking off your back each and every sin and placing them on His Son. Then He moves on to pick up your fears, your failures, your worries, and places those too on Jesus. Right here is where this text that ends with the new command about loving one another begins: with Jesus suffering, sighing, bleeding, and dying on the cross to the glory of God the Father and for the good of all sinners everywhere.
It begins here, but it doesn't end here. After you have descended to the depths of the cross, go where this text also goes. Ascend to the heights of heaven with the risen glorified Jesus. This is the last time Jesus uses the title "Son of Man" in John. He says, "Now is the Son of Man glorified." As the Second Person of the Trinity God the Son couldn't be glorified, but the True Man born of the Virgin May could be.
On the cross, bearing the sins of all mankind, Jesus pays for them all. He wins the right for humanity to rule over sin, death, and the devil. You are to picture the Man Jesus, with flesh and blood just like yours, with all the things us humans are no match for under His feet. There's sin that so constantly tempts us. There's Death which ever stalks us. There's the Devil which we are no match for. All three are under the nail pierced feet of the Man Jesus.
All this is for you. Remember as true God sin, Death, and Devil were always under Jesus' feet. He went to do battle with them as a Man for your sake. He won that battle as a Man in your place. All this is for you His children. This is the only time this Greek word for children is used by Jesus. It is not the ordinary word, but a special term of endearment. It's variously translated "little children," "dear children," "Oh my children." This is the language of love and if Jesus can use it on the threshold of His going to hell for you, how much more do you think He uses it having finished His suffering and having been resurrected in glory?
We hear love in what Jesus says or more importantly what He doesn't say. Jesus had told the Jews too that they would seek Him and where He was going they couldn't come, but He also told them "you shall not find Me" (John 7:34). He doesn't say this to His disciples, to you. After He has descended into the depths of the hell and death, after He has risen victorious over them, Jesus wills to be found by His beloved disciples. He wills for us to find His new life in our Baptism. He wills for us to find forgiveness in His Word of Absolution. And He wills for us to find His Body and Blood again on earth in the Bread and Wine He gives.
Descend into the depths of the cross with guilty, condemned Jesus and ascend into the heights of heaven with the risen, glorified Jesus, and find love. First find God's love for you. The Church can say as the Bride of Christ "His Banner over me is love" (Song of Solomon 2:4). And this love is not as Moses commanded; love your neighbor as yourself, but a love that goes beyond self. A new love that loves the other more than self.
This was true of both God the Father and the Son. God the Father loved you more than He did His only beloved Son. He chose to send the perfect, beautiful, beloved Jesus to the pain, shame, and crushing of the cross rather than sinful, ugly, hateful you. And the Son chose you over Himself. Though not guilty of anything, He made no answer to those accusing Him because if He didn't go to the cross you would. While man is made in God's image and not the other way around, don't make God worse than man. If you as sinful father or sibling always have love for your children or siblings even though you might not always show it, don't think the Father or Son can have less love than that for you.
Go from God's love for you to your love for God. Love the habitation of His house and the place where His glory dwells with the Psalmist. Love what God commands as we pray in the Collect so that your heart may be fixed where true joys are to be found. What are God's New Testament Commandments? What commands did Jesus leave us? Baptize, absolve, commune. Love Baptism as a cool drink of water on a hot day is lovely. Love Absolution as a word fitly spoken which the Proverb says is as lovely as apples of gold in pictures of silver. Love Communion as food and drink are lovely to a hungry man.
Let this love for God and His gifts spill over to others, particularly to brothers and sisters in Christ. This aspect of our text is often lost. The love Jesus commands is not for others in general but for fellow disciples. But love for others whether enemies, friends, family, or fellow Christians always flows from our love of God. St. Augustine said, "God is to be loved for His own sake, and our neighbor for God's sake" (On Doctrine, II, 9).
It's at this point we are in danger of going off the tracks. Love for God can only flow from faith in God, and not just a generic faith in a Supreme Being, but a faith that is rooted in the forgiveness of your sins. You cannot love God if you think He is out to get you for your sins. You cannot love God if you stand before Him with a guilty conscience. You cannot love God apart from trusting that all your sins were on Jesus laid and He carried them far, far away from you.
The Introit's view of God is to be the Christian's. "The Lord is gracious and compassionate slow to anger and rich in love." You know those love stories where a person is loved by another and takes it for granted until a friend says to him or her, "What I wouldn't give to be loved like you are." That's us. In Baptism, we come out of the water in the eyes of God as a freshly bathed infant does in the eyes of his loving mother. When we hear the absolution trusting that our sins are forgiven by it, God's heart overflowing with love has no memory of what we did. When we eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus faithfully, we stand before God as His beloved Son.
Faith in God's grace, mercy, and peace leads to our loving Him and in turn loving others, especially brothers and sisters in Christ. Luther's post-Communion Collect catches this relationship. We pray first to be strengthened in faith towards God and then in fervent love toward one another. We are to be confident that God answers both petitions.
Our insert makes it seem there is a big "if" about us loving each other. No the Greek construction means that Jesus fully expects that this is precisely what will happen (Lenski, 962). And I think Jesus' final words show how it does. He doesn't say "if you love one another," but "if ever love you should have in one another." We're out of the realm of emotion. It's not about me liking you or loving what you do, how you are. It's loving what is in you or more precisely who is in you which is Christ. I don't see you in Baptism; I see Jesus. You don't see me in Absolution, you see Jesus. We don't walk away from Communion holding hands and singing kumbaya, but in one body, one blood, His not ours.
Luther said, "To one in love nothing is difficult" (LW, 10, 92), and you've experienced that if you spent all night talking to a loved one and didn't feel the least bit tired the next day. Or you've driven day and night to reach your loved one. But don't start with your loving; start with God's. For Jesus' sake He has that sort of intense, devout, deep, nothing-is-too-difficult love for you. It's true that we really don't know love at all, but the God who is love has made Himself known to us. As in His light we see light (Psalm 36:9), so in His love we know love and are moved to love. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday of Easter (20130428); John 13: 31-35