By The Rev. Sherry Crompton

May 2, 2010

Read: John 13:31-35

Judas has gone out, the Gospel lesson says. The hour had come. There was no turning back now. The betrayal had been set in motion and could not be stopped now. Today’s gospel is taking us back to the last supper and is Jesus’ final discourse to the disciples before his crucifixion. Judas had just taken the morsel of bread from Jesus and had his feet washed by Jesus.

Judas has gone out, and Jesus knows what this means. However, he also knows the disciples are not going to understand the implications of what has just happened and what is about to happen. In fact, although it is too late, the disciples are going to fight and resist, and eventually run away. So this is Jesus’ last opportunity to say what he want s to say. Instead of addressing the disciples as students, he addresses them with an intimacy that conveys the poignancy of this special moment in life. “Little children” he says to the grown men, “listen to me now. I am getting ready to go to a place where you cannot come, so it’s important that we have this time together now”.

Jesus decides to get right to the point. Laying aside his usual way of speaking in parables and paradoxes, he simply decides to give an order, “I give you a new commandment,” he says so simply, “that you love one another”. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”.
What kind of a love is this? It is a love that is expressed in service toward others – family, friends, even enemies (whether they be suspected enemies or known enemies). This love of Jesus was expressed most recently in the way Jesus washed the feet of his disciples — even the feet of Judas whose feet would take him out to betray Jesus.

This is what love looks like. It is a love that knows no limits, no bounds. It is a love that is expressed best in the little deeds.

Mother Teresa used to say that “we can do no great things — only small things with great love.”

It is the small things that Jesus did that serve as guideposts for us who desire to love as he loved. He not only washed the feet of his disciples, he also spoke freely with social outcasts like the Samaritan woman. He shared meals with saints and sinners and common people like you and me. He took children on his knee and blessed them. He wept for his friend who had died before calling him forth from the tomb. He was not afraid to touch the lepers nor speak words of hope to the oppressive Roman soldiers.

If ever a person loved others in every aspect of life, it was Jesus. And I wonder if that is what it means to walk with one foot in this world and one foot in the next.
Jesus says that it’s when we love one another that others will know that we belong to him. What makes a difference is in the way we share that love with those around us. In the ‘random acts of kindness’ that we perform for one another as well as in the intentional acts of love we do for each other.

That kind of love starts with the love of Christ — and spreads to those whom he has loved — and spreads further to those whom they have loved — and continues spreading in ever widening circles. It is through that kind of infectious love that God reveals himself to the world. It is by that kind of infectious love that Christ draws people to himself.

A few years ago, I read a story that illustrates how this works. Albert DiBartolomeo was a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He had gone to a Catholic school as a child, and many years later wrote an article in which he talked about one of the nuns there. He said that her nickname was Bulldog — and he described her as a “seraphic Frankenstein monster.” Wow! That’s tough talk! Mean talk! Angry talk!

After the article hit the streets, DiBartolomeo received a phone call from a nun — Sister Maria. You can probably imagine how that conversation went – an angry nun shouting at DiBartolomeo and demanding a public apology.

But that isn’t how the conversation went at all. Sister Maria did say, “You’ve done a big disservice to sisters,” but she said it in a kindly voice. There was no shouting — no recriminations — no demands for retractions — just a simple statement of fact, “You’ve done a big disservice to sisters,” spoken in a soft and kindly voice.

DiBartolomeo felt a bit guilty when they finished their conversation and he hung up his phone — but he assumed that was the end of it. But it wasn’t the end of it at all. Sister Maria began to send him notes. When his stepfather became ill, she sent a note assuring him that he was in her prayers. When his stepfather died, she sent a pamphlet entitled, “Dealing with Grief.”

DiBartolomeo was grieving. He was heartbroken at his stepfather’s death. Finally, he reached out to the one person who had shown real concern. He wrote a long letter to Sister Maria, pouring out his heart. She responded compassionately, telling of her own struggles and inviting him to visit, saying, “It would be so good to meet and really cement this friendship that I think was a gift from God” She sent him a rosary that she had used in the hospital while recovering from a heart condition.

Finally, after more than a year, DiBartolomeo met with Sister Maria at a Catholic retreat house on the Jersey shore. As they sat by the sea, he gave her a present — a beautiful handmade wooden box filled with postage stamps. But he said, “What Sister Maria gave me that day was a moment of insight, a gift far greater than the wooden box I had brought her.”

Even after Sister Maria had to go to a nursing home, they continued to correspond. DiBartolomeo said, “Like sunshine and salt breezes on a summer’s day by the sea, her words still nourish my soul.”

Sister Maria obeyed Christ’s commandment. “Love one another,” Christ had said. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Sister Maria did that, and Albert DiBartolomeo caught a glimpse of Christ. No preaching or logic could have drawn him to that religious retreat center, but the kind words of an elderly woman broke through the locked door of his heart.
– Christ calls us to love one another as he has loved us.
– He calls us to love one another, because each of us needs love.
– He calls us to love one another because, in doing so, we become like Christ.
– He calls us to love one another so that people can catch a glimpse of Christ and his love.
– He calls us to love one another so that locked hearts will open to receive

Judas had gone out. This was Jesus’ last opportunity to get his point across to the disciples. No more parables or paradoxes, just a simple commandment. “Little children, love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples.” When we allow the love of Christ to take deep root in us, so that it flourishes in all that we do and say to one another, it is the first step in helping the world to understand how Christ has transformed glory. Amen.

Copyright 2008-2012 Episcopal Church of the Trinity.

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