What is love?
I hope we’ve all experienced love before. We’ve been in love, many of us. We’ve known love. We’ve loved other people, and they have loved us. Maybe we even love ourselves. Do we love God? Does God love us?
It’s really hard to define it. I looked it up in the dictionary. It talked about a feeling of warmth, affection, tenderness, desire. But is love a feeling? Those of you with spouses, or those of you with children, I am sure you’ll agree that you don’t always feel the same way about those people in your lives. The people we love can drive us crazy and make us quite angry, just as much as we feel warmth and affection. Maybe it’s better to say that love is a deeper sort of thing, and then the emotions float on top of it, like the love is a highway, and the emotions are the cars. The traffic comes and goes, sometimes is light and sometimes is gridlocked, but the highway persists.
We can be hurt by love. I guess more accurately we can be hurt by the people we love, rather than love itself. So perhaps love is a kind of openness to vulnerability. I will make a small gap in my armor just for you.
And I think we all know the curious risk of love. We need love — bad things happen to people cut off from love, and yet love is a risk. We know it. And so love, real love, not the saccharine sentimentality at the end of the movie, but the kind that endures — real love must be a continual choice that the link is better than the risk, that the connection is more important that the protection.
God is love. The Bible says that. Jesus loved the disciples. “He loved his own who were in the world, and he loved them… to the end.” At the final meal he ate with them– condemned prisoners get final meals. At the final meal he ate, the thing we remember tonight, he switched from calling them disciples — students — to calling them friends. Friends are people we love.
If you read these chapters in John’s gospel that cover this final meal, it’s clear that Jesus is trying every technique he can think of to get this message across. Disciples, friends, I love you. God the Father loves you. God the Spirit, who is coming soon, loves you too.
But how else did Jesus tell them of his love, other than saying so? He washed their feet. It made them uncomfortable, just like it makes us uncomfortable. Back then it messed with their sense of honor and hierarchy — this is a job for a slave, not a God! Nowadays it makes us uncomfortable maybe because we don’t want to be so vulnerable with one another. Ashamed of our feet. Repelled by the feet of others. We want to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, but this is a tall order. So, some of us will wash and be washed. Some of us will not. God loves us all, and we will all continue on the path to love.
And how else? He ate with them, just like we eat meals with our families and friends. The bonds of love in our lives so often revolve around food and drink. Perfectly natural. But then Jesus made the bread his body, and the wine his blood. And he made the disciples that night into priests, as he said “From now on, you do this too, this bread, and this wine, and remember me.” So we eat and drink the bread and wine, the body and blood, and love unites Jesus with you, and with me.
How else? In his dying on the cross, but that is for tomorrow. For tonight, let us dwell in this: that everything we do here, and everything Christ does for us, is a witness to love.