Maundy Sunday, or the Fifth Sunday of Easter in Year C, might be my favorite lectionary day of the year. You get all the Mandatum, with none of the pedilavium, which suits me just fine. Now granted, the Gospel lesson is weak on details, so a sermon on John 13:31-35 is going to require a good bit of contextualization. We’re back at the Last Supper, which in John’s Gospel takes place on the day before the day before the Feast of Pentecost. Jesus is offering his disciples a final set of instructions: preparing them for life without him. He’s washed their feet. Judas has realized that things aren’t going to end the way he hopes they would, and has gone off to broker a final deal with the Jewish leadership. Peter’s has denied that he will thrice deny Jesus, and it is here, in the midst of confusion, frustratoin, anxiety, and not a little bit of dread that Jesus says:
A new commandment I give you. That you love one another.
Here again, the preacher has the opportunity to expand on this bare bones story a bit, by explaining that, in fact, there is nothing new about this commandment from Jesus. In the midst of a long list of sexual, ritual, and moral holiness codes, God is very clear in Leviticus 19.18 that our underlying motivation for all of these we should love our neighbors as ourselves.
Given that we will hear this story outside of its usual context on Maundy Thursday, the preacher has a real opportunity to dig deep into what it looks like to follow this mandate from Jesus. How, in real life, in 2016, in an increasingly polarized America, do we really love one another? Is it possible to accept this commandment? New or not, it seems to be as simple as it is impossible to achieve. What will it take in order to offer the world the sort of love that Jesus gave in his life, death, and resurrection? Looking back at this Maundy Thursday passage through the lens of the empty tomb will offer our congregations insight into what real agape love looks like. How does the overwhelming grace of God fit into it all? What role does the Spirit play in following this commandment.
Sunday’s Gospel lesson is a short passage that seems chock full of heady etherealism, but with some intentionality, a strongly practical sermon on love can be found. Who knows, it might even be what our people need to hear.