hands formed together with red heart paint

Maundy Thursday Sermon

Sermon text: John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

In the 1960s Peter Scholtes was working as a Catholic priest on the South Side of Chicago. At the time he was directing a youth choir and was looking for an appropriate song for an ecumenical and interracial event.  After a long search he came up empty and decided to compose his own hymn.  In the span of a single day he wrote the song “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love” and since then the tune has spread to churches and camps throughout the world.

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.

And we pray that our unity will one day be restored.

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

It’s the very first song I learned to play on guitar and it remains one of the most powerful and moving songs that we sing at Camp Sequanota.  But for some reason I never fully connected the chorus to John 13:35: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

There are plenty of times Jesus amazes me in the gospels, but this scene at the Last Supper makes me marvel at the character and grace of Jesus.  He has washed his disciples’ feet and now Jesus is issuing a new commandment, the scene for which this day gets its name.  The mandate is for the disciples to love one another as Jesus has loved them. 

This is love through service.  Love through humility.  Love through forgiveness.  Love without bounds.

Think for a minute about these disciples he is loving and serving and washing.  Think about the intestinal fortitude required to give this level of devotion to 12 men who just don’t get it…yet.  Peter will deny him three times.  Judas will betray him into the hands of those who want him dead.  And the other ten will be notably absent after Jesus is arrested in the garden.  With friends like these who needs enemies?

And yet, Jesus gathers them all together and shows them love.  He continues to teach what it means to be his followers.  How will people know that you’re a Christian?  That you follow the way of Jesus?  By your love.

Jesus showed love by welcoming people for who they were, not what they could do.  He showed love through service, acceptance, forgiveness, and sacrifice.  Jesus embodies the grace of God.  He is living, breathing mercy.

This night, his final command to his followers is not about believing…it is about doing.  Show love.  Be love.  Just as I loved you.

Notice too, that Jesus goes beyond what others call the Golden Rule.  Treat others as you wish to be treated.  That’s the Golden Rule that we were all taught by grade school.  But Jesus knows the pitfall o the Golden Rule.  Sometimes we simply do not love ourselves.  We can set the bar too low and be okay with ill-treatment.  However, Jesus loves us fully, more fully than we sometimes would choose for ourselves.

Ultimately, if you want to show your commitment to Jesus you need to walk the walk.  This isn’t about justification or righteousness, love will not be our ticket into heaven, but it is our calling card on earth.  Love is the order of the day from the lowest peasant to the King of Kings.

The love of Christ held the disciples together, it holds us together as the church, and the love of Christ will be our evidence to the world that we are followers of Jesus Christ. For…

We will work with each other, we will work side by side.

We will work with each other, we will work side by side.

And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride.

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

AMEN

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