"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." John 13:34
I've heard many sermons on Maundy Thursdays. Themes usually focus on preparation for death and separation or the theme of servant leadership revealed by Jesus' action in washing the feet of his disciples. This year my pastor, Rev. Dirk Lesnett, began by defining "Maundy" as from the root word "command" or "mandate." His sermon theme was love, specifically, to "love one another."
As he unwrapped this command of Jesus to his disciples my mind and heart were refreshed with a new understanding of what it means to love, first in the visible way Jesus had just demonstrated by washing the feet of his disciples—laying aside along with his outer garment, his "right" to privilege as rabbi to say nothing of his authority and Lordship as the Son of God! But, Jesus was modeling more than servant leadership on that last supper with his disciples. He also gave them a new ceremonial practice that would ensure they would mark and remember his command the next day when he would suffer and die on the cross. He was providing a sacrament that would bring a fresh understanding of the meaning of his sacrificial death—His giving of his body and blood so that we might be free from sin and have eternal life. He was about to model, in his death on the cross, a love that gives all, holding nothing back even life. This in the context of the command to love one another as I have loved you.
What would/should it look like if the church were to model all in love in their advocacy for the protection of innocent human life and in their care of those in need: widows, orphans, the seriously ill and dying, those in unplanned or crisis pregnancies, persons with special needs? Imagine with me what impact we might have in our communities and our world if:
In church and community we demonstrated the pure gospel:
"to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."
- Every family in your congregation invited one widow or widower to dinner once each week.
- A congregation made a commitment to raise funds to enable one couple per year to adopt a waiting child and covenanted together to assist in the Christian nurture of that child as we promise in baptism.
- Each congregation member signed up to participate in whole family hospital/shut-in visitation two weeks per year and training for prayerful ministry to those who are ill and/or dying events were offered annually.
In the presence of grief and brokenness, we sought to comfort one another.
"Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you."
- Memorial services celebrated the lives of unborn children and mourned their death through miscarriage, abortion, or at birth, meals were provided to the family for a two-week period of grieving, and cards and flowers were sent to express our love and support to them.
- Couples receiving a dire pre-natal diagnosis for their unborn child were brought to the elders for prayer, received meals, flowers, cards, and visits, were given information about what to expect and offered the support of peri-natal hospice if appropriate.
- Parents of special needs children were assigned a supporting team of families who pledged to offer respite care, accompany them to activities requiring special assistance, include them in social invitations and stand with them in advocacy for accommodations and civil programs that offer needed assistance.
- The church bulletin, newsletter, and weekly announcements included a pledge of assistance to any woman who is pregnant and needs help with a phone number to call, backed up by a volunteer team equipped to mobilize to meet her every need for as long as she needs help.
- At least one member of your congregation received training to offer abortion recovery counseling, abortion recovery healing bible studies were offered regularly, those who have experienced abortion were encouraged to tell their story of Christ's forgiveness and healing, and a memorial service for lives lost by abortion was offered annually.
When innocent life is threatened we stand in strength and love.
"Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong Let all that you do be done in love." 1 Corinthians 16:13-14
- Your entire congregation marched through the church doors on Life Chain Sunday in October and lined the streets of your community in a peaceful and prayerful demonstration exhibiting a congregation that values the life of every unborn child.
- The elders of your congregation took their whole families to stand and pray together with Catholic brothers and sisters outside an abortion clinic during 40 Days for Life asking God to end abortion in your city. And while there, imagine that they offered assistance with alternatives to abortion to every woman entering the clinic.
- The men of your congregation formed a team to mentor fathers of unborn children, especially when the pregnancy has been unplanned and perhaps unwanted, modeling for them what it means to accept the responsibilities of manhood to provide and protect both the mother and their unborn children.
Imagine if all of the advocacy and care described above was not added to your pastor's already overwhelming list of responsibilities, but instead a team of volunteers—a life team—trained for leadership and equipped to mobilize others, took responsibility for a wonderful demonstration of love? A love like that could change hearts and minds and the world! Changing the world was, I believe, Jesus' intent when he commanded his disciples, "Love one another."