With this Holy Gospel, we are in the Upper Room with Christ and His Apostles on the night when He was handed over to His voluntary suffering and death. He has already fed them with His Body and His Blood, as He feeds you from this Altar with those same Gifts of Himself. He has already humbled Himself as the Servant of all to wash the feet of His disciples, as He has cleansed you in the waters of Holy Baptism. And at this point He is being sold out for cash by one of His own.
Such is the all-important context and setting of this Gospel. If you absent yourself from this Upper Room, then you will not understand the Word that Jesus here speaks to you. Apart from His Holy Supper, His Words of Love and Peace are distorted and spun out of context. And if you forget the washing of the water with His Word, then you return to your sins and remain in them — without hope, without comfort, and without the Holy Spirit. And if Christ Jesus were not handed over to His Sacrifice on the Cross, then all of this (and everything else in the world) would be for nothing.
In truth, none of the Words of Jesus, nor any of the Holy Scriptures, should be heard without some reference to the Ministry of the Gospel and the Means of Grace: to the waters of Holy Baptism, to the spoken word of Holy Absolution, and to the Holy Communion of His Body and His Blood.
All the more so in this present case, because these are the very things that Christ was giving to His Apostles for His Church as He was being handed over to His Cross and Passion. Indeed, they are the Means whereby the grace of His Cross is ever given to His Church on earth. What is more, they are the ways and means whereby the Love of God in Christ is given to you and shared with you — whereby you are taught to love Christ Jesus and to love your neighbors as Christ loves you.
The Holy Gospel set before you this morning is but one small portion of the Lord’s catechesis of His disciples on the cusp of His Passion. Apart from that context, it would be easy enough to hear and interpret the Words of Jesus in a human-centered way, as though everything depended on you, on your decisions, your commitments, your efforts and achievements, your love and obedience.
After all, what is it that Jesus says? “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word.” And on that basis alone, you might well suppose that everything begins with your love for Jesus and with your keeping of His Word. What is more, you would likely hear and understand this “Word” of Jesus with reference to His Commandments and to the Law of God. And to be sure, there are commands and laws of the Lord to be kept in faith toward Him and in fervent love for Him and for others. But to focus on His Word of the Law, especially in this case, would be to miss the main point.
It is fundamental to note the way St. John begins his account of that Maundy Thursday evening: “When Jesus knew that His Hour had come, that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
And what follows immediately is the Feast of the New Testament Passover, the washing of the disciples’ feet, and the betrayal of Judas. Which is to say that everything begins — not with you or anything you might do — but with Jesus and His Love and His obedience to the Father, even to His death upon the Cross. Absolutely everything depends upon Christ Jesus. As St. John writes in his First Epistle, “We love Him, because He first loved us.” And He loves you to the end.
Thus, one of the first and most important points to this Holy Gospel is the critical centrality and fundamental necessity of Jesus: You love Him, and you keep His Word, because there are no other options, no other hope, no other way, truth, or life, and no other fountain and source of true Love.
And that real true Love of God in Christ Jesus, your Lord, is what you need most of all. It is for the sake of that divine Love that you have been created, that you should first of all be loved by the Lord your God and receive His gracious gifts of Life, and that you should love as He loves you.
It was for the sake of this divine Love that God created the heavens and the earth and all things — not out of any necessity, but in the freedom of His perfect holiness He chose to share His Love with others outside of Himself. Such Love comprises the very Being and Nature of the one true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; for the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, in the Communion of the Holy Spirit from all eternity. But as the Father desired to share His Love for the Son with others, He created all things for the sake of that Love — and Man in particular.
Accordingly, it was not good for the Man to be alone. For Man, created in the Image of God, was created for Love; and to manifest the true divine Love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he needed to have his own beloved counterpart. So, the Lord created the Woman from the Man, and brought her to the Man, and gave her to him as a companion and helpmate. In the mutual love between the man and his wife, the everlasting Love between the Father and the Son is reflected. And in the loving bonds of holy marriage are the seeds of every other human relationship of love.
It’s no secret, though, that sin has brought animosity, jealousy, and countless divisions into the human experience of love. Even the best relationships are not immune to bitterness and hostility. Even the best marriages are not everything they should be, whereas others erode into an empty and loveless charade. Families are dispersed, and parents and children, brothers and sisters become increasingly distant and estranged. If not for the grace of God, there would be no love left at all.
But just as Love has from all eternity resided in the divine Life of the Holy Triune God, so do the remedy for sin and the restoration of Love originate and emerge from within the very heart of God. Because God the Father’s Love for His creation is an exercise and expression of His Love for God the Son, He has not permitted it to fall completely into hatred and devastating ruin, but has taken it upon Himself to fix what Man has broken. He has reestablished and renewed His own divine Love within His creation by sending His own beloved Son into this world — on the one hand, to bear the curse and destruction of sin; and on the other hand, to bring the Son’s perfect Love for the Father in the Holy Spirit into human flesh and blood, thereby restoring the Image of God in Man.
Now, to be sure, the Love of God in Christ Jesus is uniquely manifested in His voluntary suffering and death upon the Cross. There the one true God loved you and all the fallen children of Man with the depth of His own Being, laying down His Life on behalf of sinners — the Father giving up His own dear Son, the Son willingly submitting to the agony of His bloody Passion. Nowhere else in all the world has Love ever been more perfect and complete, more faithful and unflinching.
Even so, as unique and all-sufficient as the Sacrifice of Christ Jesus was, it is indicative of that divine, eternal Love which never ends; accordingly, the Love of God in Christ Jesus continues in the preaching of His Cross, in the distribution of the Fruits of His Cross, and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit from His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead. And here, again, we must consider the context of this Holy Gospel; for you cannot love Christ Jesus or keep His Word, nor can you even know Him or come to Him, except by His coming to you, abiding with you, and pouring out His Spirit upon you. And that is the Love of God with which He loves you in the same Means of Grace that Jesus shared with His disciples on that first Maundy Thursday evening.
God the Father comes to you in the Person of His incarnate Son, in order to make His home with you in the Flesh, as the Lord Jesus comes to you with His Body and His Blood in His Holy Supper. Indeed, that Holy Sacrament of the Altar is what makes this building of brick and wood a genuine “House of God,” because the very Son of God is thereby present in this place. And even more to the point at hand, the same Lord Jesus Christ gives Himself into your mouth, into your body, and thereby makes His home, His dwelling place, in you. Hence, your body is truly a temple of God.
Do you want to learn from Christ Jesus to love others as He loves you? To love your husband or wife, your parents and children, and your other neighbors as God commands? Then, by all means, allow the Flesh and Blood of Jesus to feed and nurture your own flesh and blood in His Image.
Along with His Flesh and Blood, it is also by and with the Spirit of Christ Jesus that you are loved by God and learn to love both Him and your neighbors. And to that end, the Holy Spirit is given to you by God the Father in the Name of His Son, in the Word of Christ Jesus — likewise in the washing of the water with His Word, as He washed the feet of His disciples on that night when He was handed over to His Cross and Passion. So were you anointed with the Spirit of the Father in His Son in the waters of your Holy Baptism; which means that one and the same Holy Spirit, the personal Bond of divine Love between the Father and the Son, binds you in Love to the Father and the Son. And the Spirit is the One who teaches you and actually enables you to love the Lord with all your heart and soul, to keep His holy Word in faith, and to love your neighbors as yourself.
The Holy Spirit “teaches you all things” in the preaching of the Holy Gospel, as the Lord Jesus promised His Apostles, and as He has faithfully fulfilled throughout the History of His Church on earth. So, too, as a called and ordained servant of Christ Jesus, the Word that I preach to you in His Name is not mine but His, which the Father has given me to speak by His Spirit on the basis of the Holy Scriptures of the Prophets and Apostles. And by this Divine Word of the Gospel, you are given to know the Love of God as it has been lived and revealed in the Life of Christ Jesus.
The Holy Spirit likewise reminds you of all things pertaining to Christ Jesus, not only by the catechesis of His Word, but also in the celebration of His Holy Supper. For as often as we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, the holy Body and precious Blood of Christ, the Spirit leads you to remember and confess His Cross and Passion, His Resurrection and Ascension. And it is by the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus that you eat His Body and drink His Blood in repentance and faith, with joyful thanksgiving, and to your abundant blessing. It is no amount of piety or preparation on your part that does it; but the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father bestows upon you in the Name of His Son, enables you to commune in the righteousness and holiness of Christ Jesus.
And as you thus receive and participate in His sacrificial Body and Blood from His Cross, you begin to live as He has risen and lives for you; to love as He loves you; to forgive as He forgives you; and to sacrifice yourself for others, as He has sacrificed Himself for you and for all people.
In all of these things, there is also the beautiful promise of Peace in the Words of Christ Jesus — my confirmation verse — echoed in the Words of Christ following His Resurrection from the dead (in the Upper Room once more), when He appeared to His disciples and said, “Peace be with you!” Then He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit; if you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; and if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Thus, the Peace that Jesus gives by His Holy Spirit in the spoken Word of Holy Absolution is the true Peace of forgiveness and Life in His Cross and Resurrection. Not as the world gives — a false sense of security in material possessions or fleeting success — but the genuine security of a Life hidden with Christ in God.
And so it is that, by the ways and means of His Word and Sacraments in the Liturgy of His Gospel, you are able to endure in the Peace of Christ Jesus in steadfast faith, confident hope, and divine Love — even as you bear the Cross in this mortal life on earth.
Sadly, it is true that, as you live by the self-sacrificing Love of God in Christ Jesus, this fallen and perishing world around you — and sometimes even your nearest and dearest neighbors — will nail you to the Cross, as it were, and otherwise spurn your love. But as you are given the Word and example of Christ Jesus — and better yet, as He gives you Himself and His Spirit — you are able to believe and trust and cling to Him. And in His Love for you — with which He loves you to the end — having made His Home with you, having poured out His Spirit upon you, and having made you a beloved and well-pleasing child of God, He will bring you safely Home to the Father forever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.