“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Tonight Jesus commands us, “Love one another.” But what does that even mean?
At St. Luke’s, you have done a lot of work…and taken a lot of risks… to be really clear about your identity. When I walk by this church, I see a historic building, rooted in the community, embellished with a flashy rainbow door. Your beliefs are loud and clear. Radically welcoming. Affirming of all kinds of identities. Journeying towards anti-racism. And I know that these values are grounded in your desire to be faithful to this commandment from Jesus tonight.
Love one another.
At St. Luke’s, these beliefs are not in question. You are solidly committed to love. And you are clear that, as Dr. Cornel West says, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”
But what is the nitty gritty of how exactly this works, when it comes down to it? What are the ways that we can take these deep commitments and turn them into action? How do our commitments to things like anti-racism affect our decisions about our building? How do our beliefs about ableism show up in our budget? How does our calendar reflect the ways that we believe queerness is sacred? How can we best show up and most effectively use our resources for the sake of people suffering in our community?
Tonight, Maundy Thursday, is a night about these kinds of questions and more. It is a night about the ways that love becomes more than beliefs. It is not a night of hypotheticals or thought experiments or broad strokes. It is an evening of embodiment. It is a night that love takes on flesh and blood. A night of messiness. Of dirt. Of vulnerability. And courage.
When Jesus made this commandment, “love one another,” he knew that his commitment to love was about to get him killed. He knew that liberating love, in an unloving world, is dangerous and costly. As he was preparing for his own death, he was also preparing his comrades and friends for the future in front of them. He was preparing them to hold onto one another tightly. And he was preparing them for the freedom work ahead.
Jesus spoke with an urgency not unlike the one we also see in the Exodus reading. In giving directions for the Passover Meal, the meal that the Israelites were to share before God led them out of slavery in Egypt and into freedom, God spoke to Aaron and Moses with a list of instructions about how to prepare the meal, how to eat it, how to make sure everyone had enough.
And then God gave these directions:
This is how you shall eat [the Passover Meal]: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly.
God instructed the Israelites, “When you eat this meal, eat it totally prepared. Have your bags packed, ready to go. Be ready for freedom to come at a moment’s notice.”
Be ready. Prepare.
Over the past few years we have experienced several historical events and flashpoint moments. In these moments’ urgency, many of us were radicalized to step up and be a part of liberation movements in new ways. These big moments of crisis, like the pandemic, like the murder of George Floyd, change and transform us. And between these major newsworthy moments, we know that the problems have not gone away just because we aren’t hearing about them. The issues of racism, corporate greed, and other systems of oppression remain a reality, even when we aren’t talking about them, even when the news has stopped reporting on them. The reality is that the tension is still there. It is a daily reality for many of us. That tension is building, underground, until the next explosion. And these explosions will keep happening until there is liberation for all of us. So even in these moments when we are not responding in crisis in the same way (although these crises do remain), we still have a role to play.
These are the times that we get ready. We prepare.
We do the work of love. We deepen our relationships. We increase our capacity by sharing the load. We create networks of care for one another outside of the current systems. We prepare by building the infrastructure of the future world, so when the revolution comes, we can step right into it. We gird our loins, hold our staff in our hand, ready to rush out the door to be a part of it when the new age is ushered in. Exodus reminds us to be dressed and ready, prepared for freedom. And Jesus on Maundy Thursday reminds us that an essential part of getting ready is to take gentle care of one another, even and especially as the world is falling apart all around us.
I have seen St. Luke’s do this. You have prioritized connection over alienation in a time isolation would feel easier. You have organized practical protest support with first aid, and chargers, and bathroom access. You have loved louder and harder when people in this community were harassed because of their queer identities. You are tired. But you keep showing up. You keep finding new ways to make your love incarnational, gritty, real.
Maundy Thursday is for holding on tightly to one another and learning the practical tasks of love, which is simple and yet revolutionary. Tonight is about the real substances of life. Not a thin sentimental, spiritual love. But water and dirty feet and blood spilled out. It is about the kind of love that involves our whole selves, the kind of love that makes a difference for bodies, for the land, for our communities. This love makes sure everyone is washed. And everyone is fed. Everyone is safe. And everyone is strong. So that when liberation comes, everyone is ready.