“I saw a new heaven and a new earth,” St. John says. “I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” I heard “the one who was seated on the throne [say], ‘See, I am making all things new.’”
In the last two weeks I have seen and heard something very different. A bombing in Boston. An explosion in West, Texas. An earthquake in China. A collapsed building in Bangladesh. These things are happening not only at the state, national, and global levels. They are local too. I know that for some of you the ground under your feet is shaking and unstable, the structures of your life have collapsed, your world has exploded.
With all that I have seen and heard I go back to the Revelation to St. John but I don’t want to read his words again. I want to see what he saw. I want to hear what he heard. I don’t think I am alone in that. The people of Boston want to see and hear. The people of West want to see and hear. The people of China want to see and hear. The people of Bangladesh want to see and hear. Many of you want to see and hear. The darkness of the circumstances, however, makes it difficult to see and hear that all things are being made new.
How fitting it is then that today’s gospel takes us back to another dark night; a last supper, a betrayal, a departure, an impending death. It is the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. He has fed his disciples. He’s washed their feet. Judas has stepped out into the night of betrayal. Jesus tells his disciples that he is leaving and that they cannot go with him. Peter and Thomas will ask what everyone is thinking. “Why not?” “Where are you going?” “How will we find our way?” They, no doubt, feel the structures of their lives crumbling and the ground shaking. Their world is changing.
The disciples will have to learn, see, and trust that even in the midst of terror and tragedy, chaos and pain, death and sorrow all things are being made new. So must we. We too must learn that God’s “making new” happens in the midst of, not apart from, the circumstances of our lives and world. Even as that is the disciples’ work so too it is our work and it is not easy work. It is some of the most difficult work we ever do. Ultimately, it is the work of love.
“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.”
This commandment is Jesus’ departing instructions. It is less something to be accomplished, done, and more a way of living and being, an orientation and disposition. It will insure Jesus’ presence among the disciples and continue his work of making all things new. “Love one another.” The space Jesus once physically occupied amongst his disciples is now to be filled with their love for one another.
There is something about our love for one another that is iconic, revelatory, and makes Christ present in whatever circumstances we might find ourselves. Jesus’ command to love one another is both our preparation for and our participation in his resurrected life here and now.
Love reveals the new heaven and new earth. Love is the gateway, the entry, into the new Jerusalem. Love makes all things new. Love is both the means and the goal, a journey that has no ending and a destination that has no fixed point.
The love Jesus commands is independent of who the other is or our feelings about him or her. It is not determined by our assessment of his or her qualities or lovability. It takes us beyond sentimentality, emotions, and familial kinship. It is less about a feeling and more about a choice. If we are Jesus’s disciples we show it by choosing to love one another. The mark of Christ’s disciples is not what they believe but how they love.
Love is the commitment, attachment, and loyalty to another that is embodied and enacted in concrete ways. We do not believe or reason our way into loving one another. We act our way into loving another. That’s what Jesus did. His life, death, and resurrection are nothing less than the embodiment and enactment of love. You and I, his disciples, continue that through our love for one another.
It’s all pretty simple when you get right down to it. It’s about people, life, and circumstances. It is about seeing that “the home of God is among mortals.” It looks like people running towards the explosion to help the injured. It’s eyes looking for movement in the rubble, ears listening for a whimper, and bare hands digging for life. It’s a bedside vigil when all you can do is hold a hand. It’s standing next to another and listening to his or her diagnosis. It’s cooking and delivering a meal to one whose appetite has been stolen by sorrow. It’s the courage to sit with the pain and loss of another knowing you have no idea of what to say or do. It’s the giving of one’s money to care for another whom we have never and will never meet. It’s a silent night of tears and prayer.
These and a thousand other acts like them are the acts of love that have been done for us and, by God’s grace, we do for another. When I see these things happening I see a new heaven and a new earth and I know myself to be living in the new Jerusalem. When I hear stories about these acts of love I experience all things being made new.
St. John’s vision is a reality as close as the person next to you and as broad as the stranger on the other side of the world. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”
This sermon is for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C, and is based on Revelation 21:1-6 and John 13:31-35.