Love to the utmost
Jonathan Rowe, 6 April 2023
Exodus 12:1–14; 1 Corinthians 11:23–36; John 13:1–17, 31b–34
Advertising relies upon superlatives. Here’s the description of a canned drink: ‘Fizz-popping, taste-rocking, sugar-free cola’. Not just water with additives, Pepsi Max is ‘bursting with taste and bold refreshment’. It’s (almost) tempting!
Our Maundy Thursday gospel reading speaks of ‘love max’: love to the utmost. It’s not insipid, but full-bodied, high-caffeine love. John provides two pictures of what this sort of love looks like.
The first is the Passover meal. The Passover was the remembrance of God’s rescue from oppression. It marked a new beginning, and so each year was to begin with its commemoration. Similarly, Christians ate bread and wine on the first day of the week, a sign of new covenant life achieved through Jesus’ death and resurrection. His love is costly, involving total commitment. It’s love to the max.
The second picture – it could almost be an advert for this ‘love to the max’– is foot-washing. One can see from the reaction that it was a bold, even shocking, thing for Jesus to do. That’s why we are told about both the motivation and the message of this act of love.
Jesus’ motivation for washing feet derived from knowing who he was. This knowledge wasn’t like a personality test. It was knowledge about where he belonged and where he was going. Jesus knew that he was a child of God, that God sustained his life, that underneath were the everlasting arms. So, he wasn’t asserting himself, attempting to achieve something or dominate someone. His motivation wasn’t the need to prove himself, but the well-being of those he loved. Such motivation is rare and radical; it enables love to the max.
So, I wonder, do we know that we are children of God, that God sustains our lives, that underneath us, too, are the everlasting arms? If we realise this – deep down – then we, too, can love in a way that leaves our fears to one side, confident that God will enable us to love others as they need to be loved.
John’s gospel highlights how love motivated in this way sends a message. ‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples’. We all know that actions speak louder than words. And love in action speaks more powerfully, profoundly and compellingly of God’s love for his world than anything we say.
Love in action speaks more powerfully, profoundly and compellingly of God’s love for his world than anything we say.
But did you notice that this is a commandment? It’s a law: love, according to Jesus, is not a feeling, but a decision. That’s why we are to remember God’s work of rescue. There’s a close connection between recalling Jesus’ sacrifice, in bread and wine, and the sort of love illustrated by washing each other’s feet. Only when we do the first will we be inclined to decide to do the latter, inspired by Jesus’ example. So, as we eat and drink, let us remember Jesus’ sacrifice – and then ‘love to the max’ in a thousand acts of service which witness to God’s love. What bold refreshment for our weary world! Amen.