Love has become largely meaningless in our world today. Don’t get me wrong, we talk about it constantly, but with absolutely no clarity about what love actually is or implies for us. We have defined love as affection and attraction, fondness and friendliness, liking and lust, and even blind approval and acceptance. We have come to countenance anything under the notion of love and justify it with the words, the heart wants what the heart wants. But that is not love, as the Bible understands it. The heart wants what the heart wants, is nothing but a clear and succinct definition of our fallen, sinful nature. In our sin we have taken the very notion of love and twisted it to our own twisted, sinful ends. If you really want to know the truth of love; if you really want to feel and experience the heart of love, you need look no further than our Lord, who “knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
Our Lord’s journey this week to the cross is as clear an example you will ever see of what it truly means to love your own to the end. At the beginning of this week’s journey, Jesus had been hailed as Messiah and King. As Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on the colt, “Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!'” This is how the week began, but just four days later as Jesus is eating the Passover with His disciples — those who had committed themselves to sit at His feet and serve Him as their Lord and Master — and what does Jesus do for those He loves? Jesus does what would be seen as the most demeaning, humiliating act He could possibly undertake. “He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” This is the task given to the lowliest servant. In a culture where even showing someone the souls of your feet was considered a horrible insult, how demeaning must it have been for their Lord and Master, to strip Himself down and begin to wash their feet. Jesus washed their feet; He washed all of their feet; He knew that “the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him” and still He washed His feet; He knew “that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God” and still He washed their feet. And this is what love is, to set aside your own position and pride for the one you love; to set aside what the heart wants for what the heart loves. To love someone is to actively choose to subject yourself entirely to what is best for the one you love. To give yourself entirely to the one you love with no expectation of anything in return. This is what led our Lord to hand Himself over to His enemies; to speak not a word when the accused and insulted Him; when the spat on Him and beat Him and scourged Him. It was His love that held Him to the cross and it was His loves that handed Him over to death. Do you want to know what love means? This is what true love is. This is what it means to love, and it is definitely not for the faint at heart.
But the true love displayed here by our Lord is not just an example, it is a command. Jesus said His disciples, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” This love is the heart of the law, and this love is our Lord’s will for us. And yes we fail and yes we fall and yes He forgives, but that does not remove the command or release of from its obligation. We are commanded to love one another. We are not commanded to like one another, or blindly accept one another, but we are commanded to love one another as Christ first loved us, and that is why we come to this table.
When we come to the table and receive this meal, Christ is really present; when we receive the bread and the wine with the Word, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is really present; and when we take and eat and when we take and drink, we eat and drink the really present Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. And when we take the really present Body and Blood of Jesus Christ into our bodies, we take into ourselves the real presence of Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus Christ becomes really present in you, changing you from within, making you into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ really present in this world. This is no mere metaphor. This is the Sacrament; the holy act of God Himself. We may eat and we may drink, but it is God Himself who is really present; God Himself who acts; God Himself that changes us into the very Body of Christ on this earth, the vessel of Christ’s love to our neighbor.
It is in this Sacrament, now that the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him. Come to the table this evening, be really present this night with your Lord and Savior. Take and eat the bread and the wine with the Word and receive into yourself the really present Body and Blood and be made anew this night into the really present Body of Christ in our community, here and now. And as the really present Body of Christ, receive the new commandment your Lord and Head has given you, that you love one another: just as Christ has loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are the really present Body of Christ, “if you have love for one another.” Amen.