In case anyone local wondered what I said when preaching away last Sunday, here it is:
A New Commandment?
Did Jesus actually do anything new? Good question. Better question than you would imagine. Feeding miracles? Nah, Elijah did that. Walking on water? Joshua and Moses didn't even have to do that, they parted it, and for a reason not just to show off. Healings? Again the Old Testament prophets were there first, also with raisings from the dead. One of the reasons people thought Jesus might have been Elijah was because of the myth of him being carried off into heaven in a chariot. He hadn't actually died so he may come back. Constantly John and Jesus were confused with Elijah.
But Jesus did give sight to the blind, something no OT prophet ever did. And whilst the ten commandments were a sort of back stop - so it's OK to beat someone half to death as long as I don't actually kill them - the new commandment in this Sunday's Gospel from John is to love one another as Jesus loves us. And this stated at a time when the full extent of Jesus' love - what he was going to do in what we know as Holy Week - was as yet unknown although John, as he wrote, knew the outcome.
Jesus' standards, at the time he was said to have spoken the words, were compassion, healing, exorcism and resuscitation. He had spoken of, but not yet carried out, laying down his life for his friends.
They are the standards we are set when we hear of the new commandment. The highest possible. Not that you do not murder. Not that you do to others what you would want them to do to you and vice versa. Not that you love your enemies. But that you love one another the Jesus way. Unconditionally putting others first.
At a wedding I often explain to a couple that they are not making an agreement but a covenant. Then I explain the difference. Joining hands the groom makes his promises to the bride and then hands are loosed again. Then the rejoined hands hear the bride make her promises. This is not 'I will do this for you if you will do this for me.' It is 'I will do this for you whatever.' We, the witnesses to this imaginary wedding, hear two separate and unrelated promises going on in parallel. Nothing this other person can do will stop me keeping my promises, for my promises have no conditions attached. But if the strength of those two promises motivates both parties in a marriage and they say them with meaning and commitment, and repeat them in their hearts every day of their marriage until parted by death, then the marriage will surely last.
Of course we all know that the road where one party means it and the other does not is a road to abuse, violence, manipulation, doubt and mistrust. A horror package. One party might become a doormat.
And, of course, this is not a tale of marriage but a tale of Jesus' unconditional love. What happens when one party begins to demonstrate loving one another without waiting for it to be reciprocated. The trouble with starting to love unconditionally is that someone needs to go first.
And that is what Jesus did. He went first. In pursuit of love he went to his death voluntarily.
Some people suggest that churches are emptying around the country because the Christian faith is inadequate as an expression of what life is all about. On the contrary. At its heart. At its crux (a word that means cross) is a standard so high it is not that it is inadequate but over-adequate. We ask too much. Instead of asking people to be second-milers we wonder if they wouldn't mind awfully going a few yards and then getting someone else to take their turn on the rota.
Church. A place where people who toil and don't seek for rest, fight and don't heed the wounds, labour and ask for no reward save that of knowing we do God''s will. Nice words. Someone should make them into a prayer.
You are tough. You are here. You want to identify with this man who took all the hundreds of positive and negative Old Testament laws that the scribes and teachers tried to explain and expound and boil them down to one simple, pithy saying. We'll go out from here and we'll love others as Jesus has loved us, using our weekly communion together as refreshment and recharging. Well? Will you?
I might try. Probably last a couple of hours before someone annoys me. After all I have to embrace the M5/M6 junction on my journey home. But I'll give it a go. Join me?
One day, says Revelation 21:5, the risen and ascended Jesus will make everything new. Meantime, by by this 'new' way of living says Jesus, others will notice. You bet they will.