Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:33-35
For a few years my family and I lived in Saint Louis, MO. We hadn’t lived there very long before we noticed a common refrain from neighbors, friends, folks at church. Whenever we’d meet someone – or as we got to know folks – the conversation would usually get around to the fact that we had just moved there. Of course we’d ask them how long they’d lived in St. Louis – or if they were from there. Nine out of ten times the person – even if they were transplants like us – would say something like, “Oh, I love Saint Louis and I’m sure you guys will, too.” In fact, we heard people say “I love St. Louis” so much and so often that when someone would say it to me, I started asking them to unpack it.
The person would usually mention the St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM for short). If you’ve never been to SLAM – and you ever get a chance – you’ve got to go. It is a fantastic museum. Entry to the museum is free and they have some amazing exhibits that roll through there every year. It is really an awesome place.
And then they’d often mention Forest Park. Now Forest Park was where the 1904 World’s Fair was located – and a lot of the buildings used for the fair are still being used as part of the Park. And – the same guy who designed Central Park in NYC – designed Forest Park in St. Louis. It is an amazing park – truly – it is huge and beautiful. In fact, just outside of SLAM the park hosts Shakespeare in the Park, every year – in an outdoor stage – they put on a performance of one of Shakespeare’s plays – in the evening – and it is fantastic.
And people also mention the Saint Louis Zoo – which is part of Forest Park – and not to leave off all the trails, ponds, fountains, and tons of places to just relax; and, it is all free to the public.
And people mentioned the Arch and Ted Drewes, and Crown Candy, and the City Museum, and tons of restaurants and pubs as part of the reason they love St. Louis.
But of course, one of the main things that people said they love about St. Louis is something they are all missing right now. If you don’t know anything about St. Louis at all, you’ll at least know one thing. St. Louis – outside of being known as the HQ for Budweiser – is known for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Let me tell you that city loves – and I mean – loves the Cardinals. Opening day may as well be a national holiday. Nearly everyone in town wears Cardinal red. Businesses close – pretty sure a few schools did, too. There is a parade and the stadium is packed – rain or shine – the whole city turns out and tunes in to that game.
And I’ve got to say, it is one of the best things about that city – and there are a lot of great things about Saint Louis – but the Cardinals – ranks right up at the top. And this is coming from a life-long Yankee fan. I must admit – as much as I love the Yankees – there is a place in my heart for the Cardinals, too.
I mean it when I say that folks in Saint Louis told us over and over that they love their city and they love the Cardinals – and quite honestly – there is much to love. And I don’t use the word love lightly here because, as I said earlier, that is exactly how a lot of people in Saint Louis referred to their feelings for St. Louis and especially the Cardinals. And truly – I can’t affirm this enough – I understand. I understand why people in Saint Louis say they love their city and the Cardinals; I get it.
But nearly every time I heard someone say the love Saint Louis and nearly every time that I asked them to unpack it – they mentioned the things the city has to offer: parks, museum, shops, ball-games, restaurants. I was never surprised by those answers because – well – those are some great points and they are exactly the sort of answer I expected. To be honest, those are the things we really liked about Saint Louis, too. In fact, those are the sort of things that most people would mention if they were asked why they love their city.
There is nothing wrong with loving the place where you live – in fact – we should. And there is nothing wrong with loving where you live because of all that it offers but to be honest – it is sort of like saying you love your spouse or significant other simply because of the things they can do for you and what they have to offer.
What happens when they can no longer do for you what they once did? What does it mean to love your community when your community can no longer do for you what it once did? Perhaps it means it is time to rethink what we mean by love.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not slamming my friends in St. Louis. I learned a lot from them, and I am grateful for what I learned. In fact, I they informed my understanding of what it meant to be called to a community and to a particular church. You see, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer and sometimes it takes me a while to see what is obvious to most other folks. So it took me a while to realize what was missing when folks in St. Louis would say they love their city. In fact, it is sometime the thing that people miss when they say they love their church.
My friends and neighbors in St. Louis would always mention the amenities; just like some people within the church mention programs and traditions. Honestly, I’d expect them, too. But I don’t think I ever heard anyone say they love the people of their city and sometimes I don’t hear church folks say they love the people of their church or even the people in their community when they give a reason for why they love their church or where they live.
Now we’ve come to this time in history when we are faced with a pandemic and our communities and our churches can’t do for us as they once did. There are a lot of things that are being tested at this moment. Our economic capacity as a country and community are being tested. Our preparedness for a major crisis is being put to the test. Our relationships are being put to the test as well.
But there is something else being put to the test. It is our understanding about what it means to love our community.
Today is Maundy Thursday. It is the day during Holy Week where church folks reflect on what Jesus and His disciples talked about and did in the Upper Room. It is also a day when church folks reflect on what I call the Eleventh Commandment.
You may not be all that familiar with the Upper Room, but you can find out something about it by reading John 13 – 17. In fact, John 13 opens with Jesus and his disciples in a room, having a Passover meal. At some point, Jesus gets up and washes the feet of His disciples. That may seem weird to us – but they didn’t go around in Nikes and their feet got dirty. It was customary for a host to have someone there – a servant – whose job it was to provide water and a towel and assistance in washing feet. And that night, Jesus took a towel, wrapped it around his waste, knelt and washed the dirty feet of His disciples.
But Jesus also institutes what we call the Lord’s Supper in the Upper Room. But that’s not all he’s doing in the Upper Room. In fact, Jesus washed their feet to show his disciples something about love and serving one another. He instituted the Lord’s Supper for the same reasons. In fact, everything that Jesus did that night had to do with something that is supposed to mark the Christian community for all time.
The events in the Upper Room are some of the last things that Jesus did this side of the cross. When he was in that room with His disciples he was hours away from suffering. I’m sure there was more than a bit of tension in that room. And he’s trying to stress to His disciples – then and now – just how His people – His church is to be known in the world. And to send that message home, after washing feet, after setting the Lord’s Table, Jesus gives them the Eleventh Commandment – so to speak.
Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
Like I said a moment ago, this is Maundy Thursday. It is called Maundy because that’s the Latin for Commandment. For ages the Christian community has marked this day as the day God’s people were once again commanded to love one another. In the OT we are commanded to love God and neighbor and each other – and now once again Jesus affirms it with a very clear directive: we are to love one another. So there we have it: love God, love neighbor, love one another. The Christian community is to be known by our love.
Let’s think about love for a moment. In John 13 through John 21, the word love is used 45 times. 45 times the word Love is used very often by Jesus (agapo). As you know – there are multiple words for love in Greek – the original language of the NT. In this case, the word used for love is the word agapo – which is the love that is about seeking the highest good of another; it is sacrificial; it is love that thinks of others first.
That’s the sort of love that Jesus not only lives out but it is the sort of love that he commands to be the trademark of his people. This is the love of Christ. We are to love each other – love our community the way Jesus loved. Please note, that Jesus did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. It is the sort of love that doesn’t list amenities or programs or traditions but rather it puts people and their needs above their own. It is the sort of love that communities need at this moment and the sort of love the church knows more about than perhaps anyone else.
This is a tough time for everyone. It is a tough time for the church because we can’t really be together – right now – and we don’t know how long that will be. It is also tough because our communities are suffering for lots of different reasons. Our communities can’t do for us what they once did. Our churches can’t do for us as they once did, either.
And yet, Christ’s command for His people to love doesn’t take second place to a shelter in place mandate. Christ’s command to love extends through it. That’s not to advocate running around – but it does advocate figuring out how to love as Christ commands us to love in light of our current circumstances.
We are at a critical time and we have a golden opportunity to figure out what it means to fulfill Christ’s command to love our community for such a time as this. To love in this instance is going to require thinking outside the box. It is going to require us to figure out ways to check in on our neighbors. It may require reaching back and remember ways we did things a long time ago – like writing letters or actually calling someone on the phone rather than texting. It is going to require us to figure out how to fulfill the needs of those who are suffering because of this virus. Some of our friends and neighbors are losing their jobs; how does the love of Christ extend to those folks? It is going to require us to sacrifice perhaps our own comforts in order to love the way Christ calls us to love. But that’s at the heart of what it means to love our community the way Christ calls us to love.
Look, to be honest, I don’t have a lot of answers. What I know for sure is that what it means to be Christians is to love others and my community is part of that command to love. And love in that sense means to work for, pray for, sacrifice for, do all that I can to help others to flourish; it means love is a verb; it means to do what it takes to express the love of Christ and to do all that we can for others need in the name of Christ.
I hope you’ll join me today – Maundy Thursday – and reflect on Jesus’ command to love. And in your own way, ask the Lord to help you figure out how you are to love your community and those the Lord has put in your life.