Our Gospel reading for today continues in the events of Maundy Thursday, the night of the Last Supper, the night of Jesus arrest, the night of the new commandment, the beginning of the end of Jesus’ life on earth. And, as you may have already guessed, it was also the night that Jesus washed his disciples feet, along with the women and children who may have been there too.
So, if you weren’t here last week, it’s vital to hear Jesus words with the image of Jesus state of being and state of mind. Remember, he was tired, dirty and smelly from all the foot washing, and this is how we are to watch Jesus in our minds eye, give his closest followers that night his final thoughts, lessons, prayers, hopes and dreams for them, before he is arrested and sentenced to death.
It is in that condition that Jesus continues this conversation with them. And our passage begins with Jesus telling them to keep his word. Keep his word. What does that mean? I think many of us hear Jesus say “keep my word” and think of other biblical phrases like “keep my commandments” or we may even take Jesus to mean “keep my words”, plural; as in, remember my teachings. Now, all of those perspectives are useful and important, but I’m wondering if it’s much simpler than that. What if Jesus simply means to keep his promises? Like when we use the phrase, “I give you my word”, which really just means, I promise.
Now as a parent, inside, I was like, “Yes!” On the outside I was just like, “What a great connection honey.” Parents instill those kinds of promises in their children not just for their sake but also for their children’s children’s sake, and on down the generations. And this isn’t always done with words. This was recently made clear to me as I heard more and more about Louise Lane, whose funeral was on Friday. She was someone who guarded and shared Jesus promise with her actions: by her gift of hospitality, with her welcoming nature, by teaching her family how to treat others with love not with words but by modeling it with her own actions.
But back to our Gospel reading. What is Jesus promise? Notice that he initially says word, singular, not words. So what is Jesus promise to us? Well, scholars and theologians have probably answered that question at least a hundred different ways. Depending on the Gospel you are reading that answer might change, or depending on the particular passage you are reading that answer might change. So, with the Gospel of John in mind and its author, with that night in mind, and with this particular passage in mind, what is Jesus promise that he is referring to?
Sometimes we make questions like this more complicated than it really needs to be. Sometimes we just need to let scripture answer it for us. Because what does Jesus immediately begin to talk about, his leaving this world, which will lead to him remaining in this world through the Holy Spirit, the Companion. And I’m sure that was a frustrating answer for them, and so it is with us sometimes. It’s one of those answers that probably led to more questions. Don’t you hate it when God does that? But this is the promise that Jesus wanted to leave them in that moment, I’m leaving but I’m not really leaving. I’ll remain with you, just in a different form.
If I was in that room I would have a hard time hearing that as good news. I would probably be like Peter and blurt out something stupid like, “Well, that sucks. I don’t want you in a different form, I want you to remain just like this. Why fix something that ain’t broke? This is working for me!” But Jesus, being God on Earth and all, was able to see a bigger picture, was able to think of more than just his immediate followers, was able to think of their children, future followers, future generations—and he knew how badly they would need him to be present, in an even more profound way than him sitting with them around that meal that last night.
Our passage ends with Jesus telling them to not be troubled, don’t be afraid. I don’t know about you but when someone tells me not to be afraid, I get scared! But Christ knew that the next three days were going to be rough, and they were going to need to live in this promise more than ever. And he may have also know that once he was dead, those that killed him were going to set their sights on them. Because following Jesus is hard work, it’s a tough road, and he knew that. It’s hard for a lot of reasons and one of those is because it’s often times against the grain of the way the world works, or even the way we are raised.
When we are hurt the world teaches us to hurt back. When we are disrespected our instinct is to be disrespectful. When we are wronged in any way, the world says it’s ok to get a little revenge, because everyone else is doing it. Not to mention those times when we are abandoned by those around us, sometimes by our friends because of the path we have chosen or the life decisions we are making because of our faith.
Following Jesus is hard work and Jesus knew that—which is why his promise for them that night was his continued presence in their lives, no matter what. They may have not understood in that moment but they eventually did. How do we know that? Because the promise has remained, alive and well, two thousand years later, in you and I. May we lean into that promise when we need it the most, when the world makes us feel foolish for believing it, when the world says it has a better way, when the world sets its sights on us. May we live into Christ’s presence with us always, so that we can be present with others when they need it the most. Thanks be to God. Amen.