A New Commandment I give you: “Love one Another.” Actually, this is an old, old commandment – stretching all the way back to the ethical teachings of Torah.
This week, however, Christians will celebrate the new context for this teaching as we reenact the rituals of Maundy Thursday. The Eucharist is the sacrament of a self-emptying God, “Love Divine, All Love Excelling” poured out for the rebirth of the world. We will reenact that ancient ritual of foot-washing, the sacrament of servanthood, as we would be brothers and sisters to all.
In the context of these rituals, the Love Commandment takes on fresh meaning and urgency. The outward and visible signs of the unity we seek are needed more than ever in our divided world.
Every time I head off to West Virginia, I have the opportunity to put all this in practice. You see, my cousin Lindsay is a Trumper from the word go. And of course, he probably thinks I’m some misguided socialist who would give all our money away to the undeserving and the slackers. But there’s some mystical bond arising from our two faith expressions that allows us both to put those differences aside.
What we can agree on, and do most fervently affirm, is that the addicted need help, and it is a Christian’s obligation to provide it. Lindsay and his pastor, C.J., have had our House of Hope team speak before their evangelical, non-denominational congregation — a whole fifteen minutes right at the beginning of each service! Through their audio/sound system we screened our PowerPoint with “Amazing Grace” playing in the background, the whole enchilada.
We set aside — pour out — our petty differences for the sake of the gospel message, God is Love – in our pledge to join as one in supporting recovery. For families devastated by drugs and alcohol, such love doesn’t get any more real than that. God is Love. And this community gathered in Christ is the sacramental pledge of that reality.
The style of worship of Lindsay’s faith community is not my preference. I’d prefer any day a good strong verse of “A Mighty Fortress” to their rock band and mega amplified music. But our work to promote recovery transcends these minor differences. Yes, when it comes to putting our shoulders to the wheel of recovery, “We are One in the Spirit.”
When I asked Pastor C.J. how might they support House of Hope – Ohio Valley, he said that they usually don’t promote organizations – BUT if we had a client who is destitute, who can’t afford the program, “our congregation will cover those costs for the duration.” And these people know the pain of addiction. Their pastor’s son has been in and out of rehab programs. The last I heard, he’s now going to his meetings and has found a new group of friends in the recovery community to replace his old druggie associates. One day at a time! It works if you work the program – and are surrounded by a community of encouragement, accountability and prayer.
Their commitment to recovery IS Love emptied out for the sake of Love.
There’s an African proverb that says if the journey needs to be fast, go alone. If the journey is far, go together. The journey of recovery is always far, together is the only way to make it — no matter the number of days one is left allotted.
I thank God that we have had many, many — both in San Bernardino and in the Ohio Valley — who have been companions on our journey to getting House of Hope funded, up and running. My sense is that we are on the cusp of fullness of time, the fitting season, when the parts all fall into place.
What sustains is that we’re all traveling this highway of Love together. And in the Fullness of Time, the Love of the Risen Christ will accomplish through us what we could not possibly do on our own. “Love one another as I have loved you,” is the Message. This Love is the New Commandment we act out this Thursday. Amen.
April 6, 2023, Maundy Thursday
“A New Commandment”
The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney, St. Francis Episcopal Mission
Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14; Psalm 116:1, 10-17;
Colossians 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Gospel: John 13:1-17, 31b-35