“All-In on Love”
John 13:36-38, 18:15-18, 25-27
Jonesborough United Methodist Church
Community Good Friday Service
36Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?”
Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.”
37Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
38Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”
15Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. 17The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?”
He said, “I am not.”
18Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.
25Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?”
He denied it and said, “I am not.”
26One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?”
27Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.
John may do the most deliberate job of building the tension leading up to Passover and, what has become for us, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. And while John’s foreshadowing may resonate with us, it confuses Jesus’ disciples.
“Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God.” (5:25)
“Leave her alone, she bought it…for the day of my burial.” (12:7)
“Now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up, will draw all people to myself.” (12:31-32)
“Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.” (13:36)
With each such phrase, Jesus takes another step toward a demonstration of grace that will prove more than the disciples can process. Always the intrepid one, though, Peter declares undying fidelity to Jesus. “I will lay down my life for you,” he says.
Really, Peter? says Jesus. Well, bless your heart; but listen, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.
The implication in this story is that while Jesus may believe that Peter would die for him, he’s also aware of a nullifying caveat. Jesus knows that Peter will die for him onlyif Peter’s death occurs in the context of the all-out military struggle that he and virtually every other disciple expects from their Messiah. That is to say, Peter will die for Jesus ifthey’re both trying to kill Romans in the process.
We still live in that kind of world, don’t we? Faithfulness to Jesus is frequently couched in fearful, violent, us-against-them terms. And the deeper we sink into those emotions and tactics, the more callous and less Christ-like we become. We begin to use martial and even hostile language to talk about discipleship. We speak of spiritual warfare, demonic siege, and striving for conquest and victory. And it seems to me that, for many western Christians, the first image conjured up by the phrase laying down one’s life for a friend is usually of someone mortally wounded in some kind of armed struggle. It’s little wonder that we sing of soldiering onward to serve a God whose truth depends on “the fateful lightning of [a] terrible swift sword.” We are people of faith, not fate, but that’s the messiah Peter and others expected and wanted to follow. They wanted not only to die for Jesus. They wanted to killfor him – indeed, to kill with him.
Jesus proves to be a much different messiah. And when that becomes clear, Peter does a 180-degreeturn. Instead of dying for Jesus, instead of even standing by him on Friday, he tells three bald-faced lies. No. No. No. I am not a follower of Jesus. And while Peter’s denial is hard enough for Jesus to suffer, it seems to me that of all our betrayals and denials, none do more damage to Jesus, to our own spirits, to our faith communities, and to the entire Creation than giving into the temptation to bully, browbeat, and kill in God’s name. Good Friday is about dying to all our violent, vengeful, worldly appetites, and committing ourselves to something utterly new and different.
Immediately before Jesus predicts Peter’s impending denials, he says to all of his disciples, “Where I am going, you cannot come. [So,] I give you a new commandment, that you love one another…By this [love] everyone will know that you are my disciples…” (13:34-35)
Come what may, says Jesus, love as I have loved you.
That commandment will make sense to the disciples only in light of upcoming events. The next day, Friday, is a tidal wave of terror. On Friday, the disciples’ hopes and dreams are dashed against the rocks of amazing grace. Friday is amazingly gracious because it unequivocally demonstrates that human violence is, ultimately, useless in the face of God’s purposes. And since the days of Constantine, the Church has chosen to deny the implication of that witness, namely, the truth that the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth does not require brutal and bloody sacrifice in order to be made able to love again. Any god who, in order to love, must watch someone endure barbaric torture and a slow, agonizing death, is nothing but a projection of all the fears that keep us addicted to power over and cruelty against each other.
Now yes, Jesus does die “for us.” And his death reveals that God’s love is fiercer and stronger than the hottest anger, and that God is moved by that love, not by outrage. So, it is to that self-emptying, non-violent love that God call us. On Friday, for us, Jesus goes all-in on the passionate, compassionate, justice-seeking agape love of God, the only kind of love that can truly redeem and transform the Creation.
At the end of John’s gospel, a resurrected Jesus sits on the lakeshore with his remaining disciples. After a fish breakfast, Jesus turns to Peter and asks three times, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” And three times Peter affirms his love for Jesus. “Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…Feed my sheep,” says Jesus.
Feeding and tending Jesus’ beloved sheep, that is our shared call. That’s the point of Jesus resisting his three temptations. That’s the point of the Beatitudes and of the great sermon that follows them. That’s the point of the parables, and of the oft-quoted line, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me.” (Mt. 25:40)
It does, indeed, require an all-in commitment to the fierce and fearless love of God to remain faithful to our call as disciples of Jesus. And that love comes to us through the gift of the risen and ever-present Christ.
All our faithfulness is his doing.
He forgives all of our denials and betrayals.
He transforms all days, be they Fridays or Sundays, into holy days.
And all true love in this world bears witness to his presence.