Lectionary Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 13:31-35 The Path to Glory

The disciples had joined Jesus for what would be his last supper on earth. It was a time of celebration, but there was a cloud, a darkness, an uncertainty that seemed to blanket the time. Jesus had done some strange things. He had washed their feet. This particularly bothered Peter. Then Jesus said some strange things about the bread and wine comparing them to his body and blood. Jesus had told them one of them would betray him. And then Jesus said to Judas, go do what you must do. Judas had just left to go and betray Jesus.  Now Jesus turns to the other disciples and says, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him.” What does Jesus mean? The disciples did not have a clue.

What does it mean to glorify someone? The word translated glorify is a word meaning putting into a position of power and great honor, especially in the future life glorify. Jesus was about to be betrayed, abused, falsely accused, beaten, mocked, spat on, tortured, and then executed on a cross made of wood. This was going to be an extremely painful death. How does this glorify him?

All the things that are soon to happen to Jesus seem so negative, so victimizing. Yet Jesus is going to use them to bring about the life-giving resurrection and ascension. Jesus is glorified, given the most exalted position any human being could ever be given, Savior of humanity for all eternity. Jesus is glorified by the Father and by the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’s death, there is life. In Jesus’s suffering, there is love, love for us that is unconditional. This is the glory of Jesus.

There are some things we need to remember. Jesus, the Son of God, God in Trinity, became a human being knowing this is where the incarnation would lead. Human beings die, Human beings do violence to one another. In Jesus, deity became humanity. To me, the act of leaving the prefect presence of the Triune unity to become human is beyond comprehension. To know one is about to rejoin that blessed community would certainly be a reason for expecting glory, even if the path was certainly going to be the way of suffering.

“If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.” Jesus knew this is true. Jesus knew this was the plan and purpose of the Father and the Holy Spirit.

We, today, have the gift of reflection concerning this event. We read the Gospel and so know what Jesus is going to go through. We know that Jesus surrenders himself completely to what was coming his way. We do not have to live with questions about what was going to happen. We are allowed to know how things turn out.

These next words, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.”

Wow, such powerful words of endearment, ‘my children come from Jesus. Clearly, Jesus cares about the disciples. He knows it is going to be hard on them. Jesus knows his time is short. Jesus is the only person who can go where he is going. Jesus is going to die a horrible death and then descend into hell itself. Jesus would return and then ascend to the Father. No other human being would ever be able to do this on their own. Through death, Jesus takes those of us who are his into the eternal Kingdom. Those who go to hell will not come back. This is the eternal danger every human being faces. As the Scripture says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Rom. 3:23 NIV) and the consequences of sin separate us from God. Only Jesus can breach that divide. We cannot go where Jesus goes but we can listen to his voice as he calls us to the flock of God.

Then Jesus gives the disciples a new commandment. Jesus gives us the summary of all the commandments, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

The word translated love is a subjunctive. The subjunctive is generally used when talking about something that may or may not happen; it could be something that the speaker wants, hopes for, expects, or imagines. Jesus deeply desires this for his disciples, but it must be their choice. They can reject this commandment. To do so however, would be to reject Jesus. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jn. 14:15 ESV) If you love Jesus you will seek to do what Jesus expects of us. However, Jesus will not force us to love. You cannot force love.

I hope you are aware that the word love can be one of the most misused words in the English language. It is used to justify lust. It is used to manipulate and control, to hurt and deceive, and distract and possess. This is not the love that is the very nature of God.

The love commandment Jesus gives is one that calls his disciples to be servants of one another, of being willing to lie down one’s life, and of living out of the depth of compassion that Jesus did. This kind of love Jesus tells us will identify us as true believers, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn. 13:31-35 NIV)

As I look back over my 40 years of ministry in churches, I served I must say I saw very little of this kind of love. If asked if I will see the people who attended these churches in heaven, I must honestly say I only know a few. I have seen people play at being good and then do some of the most unlove acts I have ever known. I think the pandemic has shown how little people care for others in how they responded to masks and vaccines. I believe the church’s involvement in politics has shown the lack of love and the abundance of hate. I believe churches today are not known for their love but for their marketing, entertainment, and fundraising.

I believe Jesus knew how hard this would be. I have no doubt Jesus understood that the road to love is narrow, rocky, steep, and hard. The way of the world is wide, deceptive, and seemingly easy. The road of love abandons judgment while the way of the world is always judging.

There is an exercise we can do to help us stay on track and live up to Jesus’s expectations. And what is this exercise? It is an examination of the actions in our lives as to whether we are loving others or are a stumbling block to others. We need to examine our relationships. How am I at loving others? How am I Jesus to others? How is the Holy Spirit guiding me to love others? After doing this then reflect on those who have not been loving toward. Who have I not listened to? Who have I not shown care? And perhaps the most important reflection of all, “Will I see the people I come into contact with in heaven?” 

Jesus is still with us. The Holy Spirit is constantly trying to lead us to love. We must respond. It is a choice. How will we choose?