We are with Jesus in that upper room; a few lamps flicker against the dark. The room is stone, small, chilly. We are not known for our intellectual pedigree or spiritual excellence; we are a group of Jesus-followers: some fishermen, a tax collector. He found us somehow, and we have been compelled to be with him, walk with him, to learn from him. Tonight we shared a meal, and Jesus washed our feet. Peter wasn’t going to let Jesus do that, but in the end, Peter let him. We all felt funny having Jesus wash our feet. Foot washing is the work of a slave.
And then Jesus said to us, “As the father has loved me, so have I loved you.” “At first it’s so lovely, warm, fuzzy–God is love, Jesus loves me, Love one another. That sounds so good, so comforting.” We have seen how the Father loves Jesus:
“How did the Father love Jesus? He had pushed him out of the comfortable confines of heaven down onto earth where, as a baby, Herod tried to kill him, the Father sends him into the wilderness for 40 days under assault by the devil trying to get his claws into him, the Father loved him by pressing him into conflict with the super pious and with violent bureaucrats who plotted to put an end to him, and the Father loved him by encircling him with friends who were total knuckleheads. They never “got” what he was about, and they ran for the exits when he could have used a few friends. How did the Father love Jesus? Peril at every turn, demons to be cast out, the sick pulling on him, crowds pressing, a woman yanking the hem of his garment, no roof over his head, and then the worst conceivable end…”.(http://day1.org/1255-as_the_father_has_loved_me)
And those of us who know the end of the story might wish that Jesus had said something else entirely. We do not want to be loved like that ….
We might wish Jesus had said something else, like: “As the Father has loved me…well, I will spare you all of that; I will love you differently; I will let you live on an island of ease and weave a spell of protection around you.”
But, no, it seems that Jesus’ words of love are the same as the Father’s; and if we abide in his love, we may lose the roof over our heads, we will battle devils, people will wrinkle their brow and be totally puzzled by our weirdness, we won’t get ahead in the world, we will be catapulted into serving in daunting places–and that is why being loved by Jesus is so good. It’s hard, unfathomable, something you have no ability to pull off–but you go, and you know the one loving you has been there.”
The Father’s love of Jesus is very hard. To be loved in the same way? We are not shielded at all from the trials of life – we may in fact, be thrown into some pretty messy situations, following this man called Jesus, soon the Christ, our savior. We will abide in Jesus’ love. We are called to love another in the same way that he loves us. We are not sure what that means, from our dimly lit ancient upper room or in our brightly lit, 21st century lives. We are not sure what it means at all.
Then Jesus calls us “friends.” We begin to see what kind of love Jesus is talking about. No longer are we slaves, we are friends. This foot washing and humility is not about slavery and “who owns who,” or power, or glory: it is about obedience and joy. It is about friendship that says with action and not so many words that we are not alone. This is the friend who will water your plants or tell you when your outfit doesn’t match. This is the friend who goes to the hospital with us, is with us when we hear “it’s malignant,” or “it’s benign.” This is the friend who will make herself at home wherever we are. We walk side by side. We love our friend in the very same way. We try to understand that we will find joy in ourselves when we love others in the way that Jesus loves us. We try to understand why we are not guaranteed that other kind of love, the kind that says “I’ll spare you this pain,” even while we live in the real love of God for the Son. We do the hard work, knowing that the one who loves us is with us.
Jesus calls us friends. We have not earned his friendship. We have bugged him, asked him silly questions about how to feed 5,000 with no money or with just a handful of food. He told us, “feed them.” Peter is always messing up and we’re kind of glad that he’s around because otherwise we might say and do those same things. Why couldn’t we stay on the mountain with Moses and Elijah? It sure beat hiding out in this room. But Jesus said to abide with him, and so we will.
Those of us who know what comes next know that the apostles did not stay with Jesus. We fell asleep; Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. We watch Jesus be beaten and crucified. We are not called friends because we earned the title, did wonderful things, stood by him – we were so sure that we would! We are friends because Jesus declares us so, and then Jesus instructs us on what friendship. Jesus is instructing us on how to continue when we no longer see Him, when the tomb is empty and we begin to make sense of all the things that Jesus did and said.
He gives us this difficult commandment in order that we will know love. Wash one another’s feet. (Oh, no, not this again … we don’t like feet.) Serve one another in the most humbling way that you can think of. Be servants to one another. In so doing, we will be filled with love. We serve one another the way a slave might serve us, and we are to carry out our service with “humility, vulnerability, respect, and delight.” (http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2012/04/24/6-easter-b-may-13-2012/)
Imagine if we carried out our lives with humility … we would have to set our egos aside and not only talk “at” one another but would listen to one another. Imagine serving with vulnerability: we might go to new places, take care of people who do not look like we do, bring Truth even to those who oppress us. Imagine doing our living and our serving with respect, thereby living into our baptismal vow to respect the dignity of all persons.
Imagine, if you will, that all of this serving is wrapped up in delight, and it gives us joy. Our Christian lives are meant to be full of joy, not because we have beautiful worship spaces and flowers (although those things can help us worship) and church clothes, but because our actions bring us joy. Our faith brings us joy and the one who loves us is with us.
Alleluia, the Lord is Risen! Let’s be friends.