From this Sunday forward in Eastertide, we will be reading through some of Jesus’s final teachings to his disciples recorded in the Gospel of John. You may recall that we have been looking at his post-resurrection appearances; now though we shift back in time as it were, to events that take place right before Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.
And it is fitting that we look back for a moment, because as we continue to celebrate the resurrection throughout the Easter season we look ahead toward the ascension, the moment when Jesus is no longer with us in the same way he was during his earthly mission and ministry.
So today’s reading from the gospel of John affords us an opportunity to linger a while with Jesus and to hear his important words, and we should linger a while with him, because as he tells his disciples here, he is returning to his Father very soon.
The reading too should remind you of Maundy Thursday, because the scene for this teaching is the Passover meal; Jesus has just washed his disciples’ feet and Judas Iscariot has just departed to betray our Lord to the authorities.
And now that he is alone with his trusted and true disciples, those he affectionately calls his little children, Jesus begins to unburden himself, to speak freely, intimately and powerfully.
I want to focus on two features of what Jesus says in this short passage: First, glorification, and second, a new commandment.
Once Judas Iscariot has left the room, Jesus says “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified; if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.”
Now that is a bit of a mouthful, but let’s take it apart.
What is glory? And what does it mean to glorify? When the Bible speaks of the glory of God, it means the manifestation of God’s intrinsic worthiness. To be glorious is to be radiantly excellent, and God is so radiantly excellent according to Scripture that he is supremely glorious.
But the Bible also often speaks of giving glory to God or glorifying God. We do this ourselves every Sunday with the ancient hymn of the church, the Gloria, which begins with the words “Glory to God in the highest,” the words that angels spoke to the shepherds to announce or Lord’s birth.
So to give glory means to draw attention to the one who is glorious, to recognize and celebrate the intrinsic worthiness of God. God is glorious because of who God is; and we glorify God when we celebrate who God is.
And for John, who is God? We know from his first epistle that for John quite simply God is love.
So for John the glory of God is the shining forth of God’s love, the love that defines who God is. Remember Jesus’s words: “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified.” Now is the Son of man glorified. Well, what is happening now? Judas Iscariot has just left to arrange for his betrayal. What is happening now is that Jesus is about to be handed over to the authorities for execution. And this is the great paradox in John’s Gospel.
In what looks like the worst desolation and despair, in the lowest possible moment, in isolation and agony, hanging from the cross, it is there and then that Jesus is glorified, that his intrinsic worthiness is not least—but most—evident. And in that moment Jesus’s glory, shining forth from the darkness of death and desertion, Jesus’s glory glorifies the Father. For in the crucifixion we see not just the intrinsic worthiness of the Son but also the supreme worthiness of the Father. We see the very character of God. We see the love that is the divine nature.
This is a crucial point: The Father’s love is glorious, and in the Son that love is glorified. The glory of divine love then is that it is shared between persons, and it flows between those persons. God is not glorious because God is a self-contained ball of awesomeness; God is glorious because God is in a perfect community.
This is why Jesus goes on to say that once he has glorified the Father, the Father will glorify him. “If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.” So in the crucifixion, the perfect act of love, the Son is glorified and in turn glorifies the Father. But then Jesus says the Father will turn right around and glorify him, the Son.
What could this mean except that the Father will return the perfect love of the Son by raising him from the dead and elevating the Son to sit at his own right hand? The Father acknowledges the perfectly loving act of the Son and glorifies that perfectly loving act by acclaiming it, celebrating it, and vindicating it in the splendor of the resurrection and ascension. In the resurrection and the ascension who Jesus Christ is, the worthiness of his devotion to the Father and willingness to die for all humanity, the perfect love of the Son is made splendidly evident to all.
And that explains the new commandment Jesus gives to his disciples. Where he goes they cannot follow. Only he can walk this path, at least for the moment.
So what are we to do now? The world’s only example of perfect love is about to leave us behind. Where are we to look for love now?
The answer is that divine love is to be found among those who claim to be his disciples. Where can the world look for love?: Among us. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.” What is new about this commandment? Seemingly nothing.
The Bible is full of exhortations to love one another. But read on. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
What’s new about the new commandment is that Jesus is the standard by which our love for one another will be judged. Love one another as I have loved you. He is the measure and meaning of love. It is in his life, death, and return to life again, that we see what love is; it is in him that the God who is love is glorified; it is in him that the worthiness of God is made evident.
And now it is our turn. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” If we love one another as Jesus loves, then everyone will know we really are his followers.
But I think it’s only fair to point out too that if we don’t love one another as Jesus loves, then everyone will know that too.
Our role in the drama of salvation is to glorify Christ and by so doing glorify God the Father. We can do that by loving one another as Jesus loves us. So the obvious question to ask ourselves is, “How are we doing with that?”
Do we here at the Church of the Advent love one another in such a way that people outside these walls can tell who we follow?
Could non-believers look at the way we love our fellow Christians, our families, and conclude that we must be real disciples of Jesus Christ? It is my hope and prayer that the answer is yes.
I have an old friend, his name is Pete, and he’s a musician. He is a Christian himself, but he has played in a band for a long time now with non-believing persons. Over the years the band leader, Jack, has been interviewed many times, and he often praises my friend Pete for the fact that Pete doesn’t just claim to be a Christian but really loves people like Jesus does. I read one of these interviews recently where Jack said Pete’s “dedication to his Christian beliefs should be a beacon to all those who claim to believe in Jesus.” And Jack is right about that. Pete is a sterling example of discipleship, and he has been so to Jack for over 20 years, amid many difficult circumstances.
So here is an interesting test: Is there someone like Jack in your life? Someone who does not claim to follow Jesus themselves but would point to you in public and say “this man, this woman, this friend of mine, is a beacon to all those who claim to believe in Jesus.” I hope there is someone like that in my life and yours.
I hope we can all be as faithful to Christ’s new command as my friend Pete is. For it is our love for each other that glorifies God. And when we glorify God by our love for one another those around us will know that we truly are what we claim to be: followers of the risen Lord Christ. Amen.