Mt. Pleasant Lutheran Church

Maundy Thursday Sermon – The Great Love Commandment

May 2nd, 2011 by Pastor David Echelbarger

I had been driving in the silent northern woods for hours.  This time, I was not enjoying the solitude. I had left my daughter’s home in the U.P. just before seven in the evening – I stayed as long as I possibly could.  As you may know, Anna and her husband Daniel just had their baby – a son – making us grandparents for the second time in under two months.  An upcoming winter storm and Holy Week had me leaving before I wanted to. 
            It is both gratifying and painful when your daughter is grieved that you have to leave.  She was standing in the cold, watching, as I drove away.  Christine is still there – helping Anna and Daniel – Anna had a C section and lives on a remote farm. 
            I was contemplating the experiences of the past couple of days.    The mad dash up there, the emergency surgery when the baby was breach. 
            I  contemplated it all.   The little boy.  To hold a grandson.  To hug my son-in-law.  To kiss my daughter.  To share it with my wife.  To see my daughter surrounded by friends.  I kept going over and over it, alone with my thoughts driving through silent woods. 
            Waves emotion rolled in, breakers on my beach.   Missing my daughter and loving her.  Missing my grandson, missing my wife, missing my son-in-law, missing my granddaughter and son and daughter-in-law in Texas, missing old friends, missing new friends.  The common thread through all of it?  Love.  I was contemplating all of my deepest loves.  Including my love of God.  I was feeling it all.
            South of Escanaba I took M35 and that runs along the Bay.  The moon was full and even though the clouds were trying to stamp out the light – they succeed only in spreading it further, actually splitting the moon into two pieces, call it a moon dog.  The cloud made a swaddled band that divided the moon into equal amounts of light on top and bottom.  “Two lights for my two grandchildren.”  I thought.  I have long felt the presence of God, since my days at Carthage, when a full moon rises over Lake Michigan.  My heart was longing for family and God.   Love longs to unite that which is separated.  Love seeks to overcome separation with God, separation with each other.
            I tried thinking of a Maundy Thursday sermon.  I kept hearing Christine summarize the text as I was leaving: “The text is John.  You know: the Great Love Commandment of Jesus.”  That phrase just tumbled around in me with all of the love I was experiencing.  The Great Love Commandment of Jesus.  Love. Family. God, bathed in moonlight.
            In John’s gospel there is no doubt that Jesus is God.  Constantly, Jesus is echoing the great I AM statements from the Old Testament– now Jesus gives us the Great Commandment just as Yahweh, the I AM, did on Sinai.  Love is commanded.  It must   define who we are.  It must become our primary vocation as people.  To love one another, even as we have been loved by Jesus.  A love that lays down its life for us.
            What are the deep an abiding loves in your life?  Would you die for them?  I was contemplating Jesus acts as I drove.  The moon over the water, just behind my left shoulder, pushing me on: The Love of Jesus filling my world.  It is important for us to contemplate this.  To hold it before us.  To respond to it.
In the Great Passion music of Bach, we hear the word of God sung and then the music asks God to remake us.  Bach does this over and over in his music.  Contemplation of gracious love allows God to shape us.
            Contemplate the text. Jesus knows that he is going to die.  He chooses it.  In John, he will be the Passover lamb that is about to be slain.  He gathers with friends.  One will betray him, others will be less than stellar.  It will be another night of Peter bravado.  A night when Jesus becomes the servant of his disciples.  Strips to his underwear and washes their feet: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
            Obviously love is not something we just fall into.  It is our self-sacrificial relatedness to others.  It is our sharing other people’s lives by living out of what we have in common:  Jesus.  Contemplate the magnitude of love that grows us into each other – as if we are a woven vine.  Jesus is growing us together in him. 
            God’s Spirit frees us to truly love.  We do this not by trying harder, but by living out of the life of Jesus.  We are not a bunch of individuals trying to do the best we can for ourselves.  We are a community made from and for the expression of Divine Love.  This love defines us.  I contemplate it as I drive through the Northwoods on a moon soaked night.   Be clothed in love.  Be it holding a newborn, or having your daughter’s eyes follow you as you leave — the great gift – the great commandment, is love.  It fills the sky with a light no cloud can cover.  It unifies us amid differences. It keeps us one with those who have passed on ahead – this is the power of love.  It never ceases.  We love those who have died as if they are right here – because love makes them here – and the fact that they live in Jesus and we live in Jesus means we are unified in Jesus.  It is all about love.  Love is life that never dies.
            We are remade in love’s great expression that glows from the cross.  It remakes our relationships and it remakes the world.  
            “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you  . . . .”  Contemplate this.

One Response

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