“By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
I recently watched the Mission (Roland Joffé, 1986) with one of my classes. Perhaps you’ve seen it? The Mission tells the story of the efforts of Jesuit missionaries in Latin American in the 17th century as an important bit of land changed hands from Catholic Spain to Secular Portugal. As this land changed hands, because Portugal officially endorsed chattel slavery, the indigenous people, including those who lived on the missions, lost their homes and their freedom over night.
This drama is felt deeply by one of the Jesuits, Rodrigo, played by Robert Dinero. Rodrigo had been a slave trader and soldier, kidnapping the members of the very tribe he now lived with as a Jesuit priest. Rodrigo had given his life to Christ and committed himself to building up Christ’s kingdom among these people and in his own life. However, old habits die hard: Rodrigo makes plans to defend the mission by extreme force.
Rodrigo confesses his plan to his superior and the founder of the mission, Fr. Gabriel, played by Jeremy Irons. Fr. Gabriel responds with one of the most heartfelt and theological poignant lines of the film. He says, “If might is right, then there is no place for love in this world. And I don’t have the strength to live in such a world.”
Fr. Gabriel thinks that the kingdom of God should be ruled by love, although the world isn’t, precisely because the world isn’t. He is committed to love as the greater force, even when it is trampled by selfish powers. He believes that God’s people should be known by their love, not their military or economic strength.
Fr. Gabriel’s commitment to love is so great that he won’t fight for it, for to do so violates the very principles of that love.
However, in this moment, Fr. Gabriel has also doubted the power of love. He doubts whether he has the strength to witness to love in such a world. Death seems like an escape from such a tortured world.
Jesus knows this doubt. He experiences it himself on the evening he is betrayed. Consider his anguished prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane as he asks that the Father take the cup of the passion from him.
Yet, Jesus’ love for us and for his father is greater than his doubt and anxiety. His love commits him to this new community that he has established. This community that exists because of his love and his sacrifice. Jesus doesn’t fight for us. Jesus doesn’t obliterate his enemies. He doesn’t flex his divine muscles. Rather, Paul tells us in Philippians that the Father lifts up Jesus name because of his obedience and humility. He gives himself, an offering of love and obedience, to the Father on our behalf. He unites a broken body through his own broken body.
So tonight we re-member his sacrifice, and the love that gives shape to that sacrifice. Jesus asks one thing from us, that we come together in love, in his love, to re-member his body broken for us.
We re-member Christ not only as an act of memory, but in our imitation of him, in foot washing as a sign of our love and humility toward one another. In these acts of love, of service and thanksgiving, Christ tell us that the world will know us. Jesus tells us that if we abide in him, he will abide in us, and our joy will be complete. Complete joy… what a beautifully difficult concept.
This is neither the joy of security nor of cultural acceptance. For Jesus had neither of these.
Rather, this is the joy of love, the joy of a community of peace. This is the joy of the communion of saints, a community that identifies as Christ’s body. So, when Jesus says that the world will know us by our Love, what Jesus is challenging us to acknowledge and practice is the very same love that motivated him to give his life for his friends, to give ourselves to each other in the imitation of Christ.
Holy Week invites us to a time of reflection on Christ’s suffering. As we contemplate the depth and horror of Christ’s death, let us also wonder at his love for us, and to renew ourselves, our relationships, our ways of life.
Maundy Thursday, 2015
The Parish of St. John’s Mt. Washington