Tomorrow is a day Christians commemorate as “Maundy Thursday,” the day that we remember the Last Supper that Jesus had with his 12 closest disciples, and the night that he is betrayed and handed over to be killed by one of those very men.
That night, he had a long conversation with the remaining 11 disciples. The betrayer, Judas, had already left to go tell the people who wanted to kill Jesus where they could find him.
Jesus knew perfectly well what Judas had gone to do, but he didn’t flee for his life. In fact, he didn’t even seem particularly rushed. He shared the Passover meal with his disciples, then he spent the rest of the evening encouraging them – even though he knew that he was the one who was about to undergo a horrifying death.
The disciple named John recorded this conversation in his Gospel account, in chapters 13-17. When I first became aware of this section of Scripture, I was struck by three things: love, joy, and the promise of the Holy Spirit.
As I’ve probably mentioned before, I’m a bit of a melancholy personality. For a long long time, when I thought of Jesus, I thought of him with the sort of mournful countenance that you see in stained glass windows and Renaissance art. He was two-dimensional in my mind, just a drawing frozen in time.
That kind of Jesus can’t be joyful, and if he loves, it’s a sad love – a love that is constantly disappointed with the object of said love. But when I read this passage for the first time, I came across the word “love” over – and over – and over – and over – and over… 33 times, in fact, in this one section. The word didn’t seem to be connotated with disappointment. Quite the opposite. It was filled with hope!
How could this be? I certainly disappointed Jesus’ command to love one another. In fact, the year that I realized that being a good girl with good grades and good habits and good theology really wasn’t enough to please God was the hardest year of my life up to that point. Living abroad, my eyes were opened to the fact that Satan didn’t get thrown out of heaven for drinking too much or sleeping around or partying too hard (the “big sins” in my mind). He was thrown out of heaven because of his pride – because he thought he could run things better than God.
And oh! I too was so prideful. It hit me that year that although I prided myself on obeying God’s commandments, I actually seemed to be incapable of obeying the two greatest commandments: to love God with my whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself.
So in this conversation with Jesus right before he’s betrayed by his own follower, it could have been easy for me to be overwhelmed by the number of times that Jesus says “hey, love each other.”
Instead, I was struck by the fact that Jesus goes on and on about how we can possibly love one another. He fills us with his joy and his peace (in my previous picturing of Jesus, I didn’t really think of him as joyful or peaceful!), and he says (for the first time) that we are united to him through the Holy Spirit.
So – it’s not really by trying harder, screwing up my face, sticking my tongue in just the right spot, willing myself to love, dammit. I can’t obey this all-important command by just trying to make myself do it. I obey it by turning my eyes to Jesus. By listening for the Holy Spirit – the Helper, the Spirit of truth – instead of letting my anxious thoughts consume me. By not dwelling on the things that make my heart be troubled or afraid, but letting Jesus fill me with his peace. By letting him delight to love me, resting in his love so that my joy may be full.
I love others as I see a more 3-D picture of Jesus: not just mournful, but also joyful, full of peace, and deeply loving those who are his. This is the Jesus whom the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, shows me. Jesus’ love for me, his longing for me to dwell in his love, and his desire for my heart to be at peace and full of joy are revealed by the Spirit of truth, who comes from the Father to show us the Son. What a beautiful and gracious God he is.