I recently visited the Globe theater in London where there is, of course, lots of information about William Shakespeare: a truly remarkable man who gave us so many famous, so many wonderful words. I discovered that his last words, the words spoken on this deathbed, were these: ‘I commend my soul into the hands of God my Creator, hoping and believing, through the merits of Jesus Christ, to be made partaker of life everlasting’. Not his most famous words, but very powerful words, nonetheless.
While we might not readily recognise Shakespeare’s own last words, the final words spoken by some of his characters are perhaps more familiar to us. You might recognise: ‘a horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse’ as the last words of his King Richard lll. ‘Thus with a kiss I die’ those of Romeo. ‘Et tu, Brute!’ – you might know are the final words of Julius Caesar. The words spoken at or towards the end are often those best remembered.
It’d not a surprise then in John’s Gospel during his final discussion with his disciples Jesus speaks some of his most famous words to them and to us. ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ he says during his farewell discourse. Jesus says these words right at the end of his ministry, as if to underline the point in thick red pen. On the evening before his death, Jesus tells his disciples to love one another. These words are top of the bill!
Jesus calls his followers, he instructs his followers, he commands his followers to love one another as he had loved them. It is his new commandment: a commandment for them, a commandment for us.
This is an important part of what it means to be a followers of Jesus: to love one another. That doesn’t mean necessarily that we always have to agree with each other or that there will never be a differences or disagreements but there still needs to be love for one another. In fact, as a church, as followers of Jesus we’re called to be a visible community of diversity and disagreement but a community that loves one another in that diversity and disagreement.
At a time when there is so much disagreement and disunity in society that can so easily tip over into hate it’s crucial that we demonstrate a way of being in the church that shows how to hold together disagreement and division and still love one another.
This is counter-cultural, this is revolutionary in a sense, this is our calling. Following this commandment is what it means to be church.
Love one another, as I have loved you, Jesus says, in these his last words. By this all shall know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
With my prayers and best wishes