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Fr. John Allison

Easter 6B

Acts 10:44-48

1 John 5:1-6

John 15:9-17

May 5, 2024

Christ Church, Hudson


“Love one another as I have loved you.” This commandment from Jesus is one we know well; Mother Kathleen and I say a version of it each week as the offertory sentence, right after announcements: “Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us an offering and sacrifice to God.” More significantly, however, especially on this thirty-sixth day of Easter, is that we last heard it in our Gospel reading just about six weeks ago, forty days ago to be exact, on Maundy Thursday as Jesus says his farewell to the disciples at the last supper in John 13: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” This is the  core of our faith and what we hear today in our Gospel lesson is part of a larger section of John, an earlier part of which we heard last week, that is commonly known as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse as he speaks these words on the eve of his crucifixion. The disciples, at that point, cannot comprehend all that he tells them but it is this simple message, “Love one another as I have loved you,” that endures. It’s the same message but as we hear it today something has changed. 

It’s Easter. We are living in the Resurrection. Mother Kathleen and I have been preaching some variation of this same theme for six weeks now. Christ has triumphed over death and everything is changed. In John’s Gospel, Jesus delivers this commandment because he is about to go away, to be crucified, that’s the context on Maundy Thursday; we read it today, on this sixth Sunday of Easter, because he is about to go away again; forty days after the discovery of the empty tomb, this Thursday, Jesus will ascend to the Father, will be gone from us—again. But this time it’s different. 

I don’t want to jump ahead too far in anticipation of the Ascension but as I hear Jesus’ commandment today, there is a part of me that flashes back to pre-Resurrection. There is a part of me that gets stuck. That forgets not what Jesus has done for me but that in offering himself everything has changed. 

Jesus says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.  I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” Jesus’ distinction of this shift from being servants to friends shows us one way that things have changed. As I said, at that point, the disciples didn’t really understand the implications of all that he was saying but, in Resurrection, in the presence of the Risen Lord it begins to make sense. 

This word “friend” would have been understood by John and his first century readers in a very particular way, written as it was in Greek. The concept of friend was something that Aristotle had written about extensively. For Aristotle the best way to develop in oneself a particular virtue is to emulate those who already embody it. He says, “A friend is another self.” For Aristotle, we form each other in the moral life. In saying this, he goes on to characterize three types of friendship. The first type is about utility; we have friends who are useful to us in some way, for business or social functions. The second type is more about pleasure; we have friends whose company we enjoy. But it’s the third type of friendship that is the most important, the one I think Jesus has in mind when he calls the disciples friends. This is friendship for the sake of friendship. Friendship that does not depend on what we gain from the relationship but the relationship that by it’s very existence fosters the kind of self-giving love that Jesus embodies. The kind of friendship Jesus offers his disciples is not about reward. It’s not about pleasure. It’s a friendship that teaches us to love as God loves. We have that in Jesus. We see how he loves and we are called into that love, called to offer that same love in his name.

Several years ago, I was in a group and we were discussing this very passage. After some general talk that really seemed to be going nowhere, one of the group members said, very candidly, “I completely fail at this. I can’t love as Jesus loves. I want to,” he said. “But there are just some people I can’t love.” There was silence among the group members, but then there were some knowing nods of agreement. It’s hard. We are called to love as Jesus loves, but we are not Jesus.

In what seems like a lifetime ago, on Ash Wednesday, I talked about the concept of compunction, the sorrowful joy that characterizes the season of Lent. We recognize that we fall short, that we miss the mark, that we sin, and it pains us. It pierces our heart, but it is in that piercing that God’s love enters. That’s the Easter joy that we know only from the wounds of the Risen Christ. That’s the joy that the disciples have begun to know in the Resurrection. It’s our joy. 

As I said earlier, Christ is about to ascend to the Father. He leaves us as a bodily presence but in his commandment to love one another as he loves us, if we abide in his love, our joy will be complete. That’s his promise to us. Our job, the work that we are called to do in his name, to love as he loves, is hard. John tells us in his letter that we read today that it is not burdensome, and that is correct in that we are freed from sin by love, but we must remember, even as Jesus ascends and leaves us in body, he is there with the Father in heaven always calling us, always waiting for us, and yet always with us. That’s the friendship of Jesus. May we all learn from him and bear fruit that is worthy of his name.  Amen.