Sunday, May 06, 2007

Following Our Revisionist Lord

All Saints Church ~ Easter 5C

"I give you a new commandment: Love one another. You're to love one another the way I have loved. This is how all will know that you're my disciples: that you truly love one another."

The very familiarity of these words can take away their power when we hear them these centuries after our Lord spoke them that night before he died. "A new commandment I give you," he said to the faithful Jews who were his disciples – and who already had ten perfectly good commandments, thank you very much.

Not a recommendation. Not a suggestion. Not a "resolution" ... but a COMMANDMENT: elevating it to the status of the ten that came down the mountain with Moses ... elevating it to "the Word of God."

This, my friends, was precisely the kind of talk that had gotten him into this no-going-back place to begin with. This insistence that God's revelation didn't quit on Mt. Sinai didn't sit well with those who considered themselves the champions of orthodoxy … the leaders of the religious institutions of his day. Invested in the status quo, there was no room for new commandments ... for "continuing revelation" ... for Jesus – the revisionist rabble rousing rabbi from Nazareth.

"A New Commandment?" Who did this revisionist think he was? It was blasphemy! Apostasy! Heresy! And so the gloom darkened, the troops gathered – and the cross loomed.

And yet, "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." Loved them enough to tell them the truth – no matter what the cost. Loved them enough to share all of who he was with them – and command them to do the same to each other.

"As I have loved you so you must love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Not "if you follow all the purity codes." Not "if you get 100% on the theology quiz." Not "if you agree with each other about everything." The New Commandment is none of these: it’s simply love one another." And because the New Commandment – the Eleventh Commandment – we celebrate every time we gather may just be the hardest one of all, thank God we also celebrate the Grace of God that enables us to accomplish what we have been called to do.

Grace. It's another one of those words so familiar it sometimes defies explanation ... definition ... understanding. I remember well the moment when after years of hearing about it grace was finally explained to me in a way I could actually understand it. A priest told me, "Think of all the times you've said, thought or heard the phrase, 'There but for the grace of God go I' and try it this way instead, 'There but for the enablement of God go I.' Remember – there is nothing God will ask you to do God will not enable you to accomplish – THAT'S what we mean by "grace."

St. Augustine – one of the great Fathers of the Church – is reputed to have used these words when he distributed the bread of communion: "Receive what you are." You ARE the Body of Christ – the grace is already there. The sacrament is just a reminder. I was taught in my catechism class that a sacrament is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace." There are two primary sacraments in the Episcopal Church ... the Anglican tradition: Baptism and Eucharist. They are considered "primary" because Jesus told us to do them.

Other sacraments in the prayer book – ordination, confirmation, marriage, etc. – don't have the primacy of the other two because while we believe them to be inspired by the Holy Spirit the two things we have Jesus on record as saying: DO THIS are Baptism and Eucharist – and so we do.

Baptism in Matthew 28: GO THEREFORE and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit.

Eucharist in Luke 22: And he took bread and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them saying, "This is my body which is given for you. DO THIS in remembrance of me.

And in today's gospel: John 13: I give you a new commandment: LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

It is that love we celebrate today in our worship and our praise – it is that Eleventh Commandment we claim as we ask God to send us out into the world to do the work we have been given to do -- to live our lives as God's people in the world offering that love that casts out fear to a world in desperate need of it.
We've been given a New Commandment. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! Amen.

1 comment:

Mike said...