Keep my commandment:
that is, give heed to, observe—
doing it with joy.
Keep my commandment:
by its daily exercise
love one another…
Keep my commandment
by bearing fruit that will last:
abide in my love…
Keep my commandment
so that your joy may be full:
serve one another.
Jeff Shrowder, 2021
Prayer from The Billabong, a lectionary worship resource by Jeff Shrowder, Uniting Church in Australia
9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.
14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
The Sixth Sunday of Easter
Easter is Fifty Days! On this sixth Sunday of Easter that's day 36, we're back again with Jesus on Maundy Thursday and his concluding discourse (speech, talk, homily, reflection, sermon). Although we're in the season of Easter, this passage describes an event before Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. Just as in last week's gospel account, this week we hear more about obeying and abiding in Jesus Christ. Abiding means staying put.
During the Great Fifty Days, readings from John's gospel and from the Acts of the Apostles particularly reveal the shape and form of the servant church God calls us to be—and in the power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, God enables us to be. But this is not a solitary endeavor; our lives correspond to last week's image of God as the vinegrower, Jesus as the vine, us as the intertwined (inter-vined?) branches that support, complement, and compliment each other.
In Jesus' time and place, the unbending relationship between patron / sponsor and client / servant was heavily constructed and pre-determined. In this reading Jesus tells us our relationship with him mainly is friendship with the intimacy and closeness friendship implies. In the twenty-first century global West, we acknowledge many degrees of friendship, yet both the deepest and the most casual friendships have a sense of unstructured spontaneity.
Words of Love
As I first learned via C.S. Lewis, the bible uses four different Greek words for love (and the Greek language has at least four more). In today's account, Jesus loves his disciples with the unconditional agape love we know as divine; Jesus calls us to love one another with God's agape love. The word for friends in verses 15 and 16 incorporates the affectionate, companionable love that's philia in Greek. We know "philia" well from the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia; we recognize the phil root in philosophy that's love of wisdom. It's interesting that contemporary English with its extremely large, nuanced vocabulary that usually has many synonyms or same-meaning words for almost every noun, verb, and adjective, is impoverished when it comes to writing or talking about love. We love a friend, a spouse, or a child. We love God. Many of us love a particular city or a favorite food. I love that song! However… given the nature of cities, maybe loving some cities and towns with the same quality of love we have for some people isn't out of line at all.
• Here's some of what I discovered about origins of the English word love from Online Etymology Dictionary:
love (n.) Old English lufu "feeling of love; romantic sexual attraction; affection; friendliness; the love of God; from Proto-Germanic lubo (source also of Old High German liubi "joy," German Liebe "love;" Old Norse, Old Frisian, Dutch lof; German Lob "praise." Old Saxon liof, Old Frisian liaf, Dutch lief, Old High German liob, German lieb, Gothic liufs "dear, beloved"). Germanic words are from root leubh- "to care, desire, love." The weakened sense "liking, fondness" was in Old English.
love (v.) Old English lufian "to feel love for, cherish, show love to; delight in, approve," from Proto-Germanic lubojanan (source also of Old High German lubon, German lieben), a verb from the root of love (n.). Weakened sense of "like" attested by c.1200.
Love One Another – COVID-19
God gifted Israel with the ten Words or Commandments of the Sinai Covenant after they'd been liberated from slavery, been freed from production quotas. Out of imperial Egypt, into the exodus desert, on their way but not yet at the promised land, they'd learn to keep and maintain that freedom by keeping and obeying the commandments. Slavery to empire no long would be their frame of reference; instead they would reverence God by serving the neighbor.
As I've mentioned countless times, we discover the neighbor at the heart of the Torah, we meet our neighbor when Jesus of Nazareth summarizes the ten commandments into two: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. God gifted us with commandments (ordinances, precepts, statutes, laws, torah) so our lives would harmonize with the late Jewish philosopher and theologian Martin Buber's definition of love as responsibility of an I for a thou.
"This is freedom. This is a weapon greater than any force you can name. Once you know this, and know it with all your being, you will move and act with a determination and power that the federal government cannot ignore, that the school boards cannot overlook, and that the housing authority cannot dismiss." Martin Luther King, Jr., Chicago, 1966• Obedience / Freedom • Once you know [the power of freedom]…
Early in the COVID-19 mask-wearing mandate people started to protest. Over a year into masks, people haven't stopped complaining, with some refusing to mask up because they insist masks take away their personal freedom. Now that vaccines are available, some people make the same argument and say getting vaccinated robs them of their supposed autonomy. As the commandments (the law!) and the prophets (grace!) reveal, life's not about a supposedly autonomous "me" individual because no one lives by or for themselves. Polite suggestions or municipal demands to mask or get vaccinated don't remove anyone's freedom; freedom always has limits and boundaries because no one can be an autonomous "law unto themselves."
Life is about me, a person connected to the other – to my neighbor whose neighbor I become – in love that regards their greater good as my privilege and obligation, that perceives the neighbor's good as my own. Loving our neighbors brings the Ten Words of God's Commands to life; love in action helps obliterate and reverse the reign of death. Love in action bears fruit that will last!
I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. John 15:17
Once we know freedom of obedience, we will know love in action. Justice, determination, power – and responsibility – come alive when we love God, neighbor, and self. We have opportunities to love by continuing to wear a mask even after we've been vaccinated. The experts still don't know about transmission from vaccinated individuals; besides, even if there was zero risk, wouldn't you feel safer if everyone around you wore a mask? The etymology for love says the Proto-Germanic word "lubo" also is the source of the Old High German word liubi that means joy. Jesus tells us, "I have said these things [keeping the commandments and abiding in love] to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete." John 15:11
Next Sunday on Easter 7 we celebrate Jesus' Ascension; the following Sunday is the Fiftieth Day of Easter, the Day of Pentecost.