Love

Homily April 1, 2021 - Maundy Thursday
Epiphany Parish, Walpole

Loving God, give us ears to listen, minds to inquire, and hearts to discern, and help us to have the courage to love and be loved. Amen.

Here we are. We’ve arrived at the start of the Easter Triduum: the three holiest days of the year wherein we commemorate and celebrate Jesus’s passion, death, and resurrection. We start with Jesus and his disciples in that upper room where they’re having their intimate supper, the last supper. The meal is followed by an incredibly vulnerable moment when Jesus teaches his students their most important lesson and gives them their final mandate. In the submissive act of kneeling down and washing his disciples' feet Jesus is embodying his commandment that they love one another. Next, we head into Good Friday - that deeply solemn and painful scene where Jesus breathed his last breath. And finally on to the Easter Vigil with the lighting of the Holy Fire and celebration of Christ’s glorious resurrection to round out this triptych.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to get a little emotional as I walk through these liturgies. To empathize, even just a little, with the pain, both physical and emotional, Jesus experienced, or to imagine and feel what it must’ve been like to be Peter or John, or better yet, Mary Magdalen, to have your heart broken and experience that nearly unbearable pain of grief, is enough to make me weep openly. 

The emotional extremes we bear witness to during Holy Week each year go to the core, quite literally the “heart,” of what it means to be human: Love, loss, pain, grief, sacrifice, rage, hate, and so on. The one theme that weaves this entire passion play together and helps to keep us focused on just what the point of all this is, is Love. 

Love. The simplest and yet somehow most complex four-letter word we know. 

At that last supper Jesus is commanding his disciples to love one another the way he has loved them. As is typical of the disciples, they don’t fully understand what he’s saying to them. He’s their Lord and teacher and yet he also wants to become like a servant and wash their feet. Each of them swears allegiance to him. They deny they will betray him. They don’t fully understand that the love Jesus freely offers is the love that God offers. Even the ones who horrifically betray Jesus will still continue to receive this holy love from God. 

When we think about all the ways we hear about love in scripture, some scholars and theologians have helped by sussing out four different types of love, and each, of course, has an original Greek word: Eros, Philia, Storge, and Agape. 

Eros is romantic love. It’s intimate, it's sexual, it’s very much “Song of Solomon.”

Philia is love between close friends. Your very best friends. Think of Ruth and Naomi, John and Jesus, poor old Job and his friends, and so on.

Storge is love between family members - siblings, children, spouse, etc. Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus, Abraham and Sarah, etc.

And finally there’s agape. Agape is the most intimate form of love and it’s what God offers to us. Offers to humankind. Unconditional, sacrificial love. God is love. Agape. Jesus’s death on the cross for our sins is agape love.

So, now let’s return to the scene in that upper room where the disciples have dined with Jesus. Feet have been washed, and now Jesus is teaching that one last lesson: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus is asking his disciples to practice agape love. And the implication, if we tie it to the rest of Jesus’s formation of the disciples, is that these disciples will continue to practice agape love toward all those whom they encounter even after Jesus has been crucified and resurrected. And, and here’s the tricky bit for us. Jesus says to love one another just as he has loved us. Ok. Great. Jesus...God...is love. And God’s love for us is agape love. Sacrificial love. Unconditional love. This is how we’re called to love one another. All those other forms: eros, philia, and storge, are important too and we need them. We need all of that love, but sometimes those other forms of love can distract us or pull us away from pure agape love. Agape love can also be hard to receive. It can be overwhelming. Particularly for those who haven’t experienced much love to begin with. Perhaps one of us had a parent who wasn’t capable of giving love. Or perhaps we’ve done something that we believe to be so horrific that we’re convinced we don’t ever deserve to be loved. These are the kinds of things that trap us and keep us from the full, open-armed, open-hearted love of God. But the thing of it is, is that the more we open ourselves up to the all-embracing, all-knowing, all-seeing agape love of God, the more we’re able to love others and the better we’ll be at injecting God’s agape love into our relationships with one another.

No doubt some of us have struggled on and off with feelings of being unloved. When we’re at our best, we know God loves us and wants only the best for us. When we’re at our no-so-best, we believe we’re unlovable and that we might not even deserve God’s love. Perhaps we know in our head that we’re loved and maybe we just forget to remind our heart that we’re loved. A helpful tool to remember how God loves us can be to take gospel readings and replace the words Jesus and God with the word Love. Afterall, we know that God is love. Listen to this from tonight’s gospel, “After love had washed their feet, love said to them, “Do you know what love has done to you? If love has washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet, in love. For love has given you an example, that you should do the same.”

Just as you’ve been loved, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

God is love. And God loves you for no reason other than the fact that you are you. And you, we, each of us, we’re called to seek out and practice that same agape love, hard though it may be sometimes, ever mindful of God’s unwavering, unconditional, sacrificing love for us. 

I’d like to close with a poem entitled, Maundy Thursday by English poet, singer-songwriter, Anglican priest, and academic, Malcolm Guite. 

Here is the source of every sacrament,The all-transforming presence of the Lord,
Replenishing our every element
Remaking us in his creative Word.
For here the earth herself gives bread and wine,
The air delights to bear his Spirit’s speech,
The fire dances where the candles shine,
The waters cleanse us with His gentle touch.
And here He shows the full extent of love
To us whose love is always incomplete,
In vain we search the heavens high above,
The God of love is kneeling at our feet.
Though we betray Him, though it is the night.
He meets us here and loves us into light.

Amen.


© Margaret Lias 2020