“A new commandment I give to you; love one another. As I have loved you, you are to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35.
Many times the last thing a person says before he or she dies takes on a very special significance. It is as if the very essence of that individual is somehow summed up and compacted in that message.
Those first disciples must have felt that way about those words Jesus spoke to them on the night prior to his death. Jesus was telling them that loving others would be the way that folks would know their true identity. And so it is for us. Jesus set an ideal pattern of how we are to love one another. Exactly what does that love look like that is so different from the way the world loves?
St. Augustine once said that Jesus loved each one he had ever met as if there were none other in all the world to love, and Jesus loved all as he loved each one. Jesus’ love is so individualized that he loves you like there is no one else in all the world to love, and he loves all people just as he loves you. This is the way that Jesus loves and invites us to love each other.
I recall standing beside the bed of an elderly member of my congregation after he had suffered a devastating stroke. His family was gathered around him, and in walked four of his friends from church. All of us stood around his bed praying for him silently. His friends had taken off from work and driven 50 miles in the middle of the week to see their sick friend. When they saw his condition, and that he could not speak, they seemed to not know what to say. Then one of the men said “Let’s pray.” After his prayer he said “Let’s pray the Lord’s Prayer together.” As we all started praying the Lord’s Prayer, the sick man, who had not been able to speak anything but gibberish in three days, began to pray the Lord’s Prayer in German. This was the language he had learned it in as a child. Our tears flowed in joy as we listened to him speak to God in perfect German. After his friends left to go back to work, the sick man motioned for me to come closer. In English he said in a very low tone, “Anyone who doesn’t have a church home is stupid.” Those were the last words he spoke before he died the next morning.
He knew it was love that brought his family and friends to his side to support, comfort and pray with him. He understood the kind of love that shares time, resources, hopes and prayers because he had been a part of that kind of love all his life. Even though his last words were curt, they spoke of the kind of love that Jesus spoke about in his last words. When he had not been able to speak at all because of the stroke, he miraculously spoke in both German and English to pray and give God praise for this love that Jesus speaks about in John.
Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director