Daily Reading for April 21 • Maundy Thursday
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Through his lifting up on the cross Jesus is drawing all to himself, so this new household that he creates is meant to be seen as the symbolic nucleus of the church, the all-embracing family. By tracing the origin of the church to this relationship between Jesus’ mother and his beloved friend, the evangelist is asking us to remember two things about the church’s true identity.
First, the community that Jesus’ lifting up brings into existence is not an institution. It is not an organization. John does not even use the word “church.” It is a communion grounded in the common experience of intimacy with Christ. It is the household of those who abide in him. As Christ is heard to pray the night before his death, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, so may they be also in us. . . . I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one” (17:21, 23).
Second, John is telling us that the new community is grounded in a commitment to reciprocal care and mutual love. Our meditation is meant to lead us back to the scene of the foot-washing the night before, when Jesus demonstrated the self-spending mutual service, the utter disregard for all human rank and status, that was to be the sign of the new community. By showing us how Jesus summons this community into existence from the cross, the evangelist invites us to realize again that this mutual service is nothing pleasant or easy. The new community is not an inward-looking mutual admiration society, but a force-field of costly self-giving. It is where friends lay down their lives for one another. It is a field where seeds have to die if they are to bear much fruit.
From Love Set Free: Meditations on the Passion According to St. John by Martin L. Smith, SSJE (Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 1998).