Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
High school and college seniors are ready to close the books, but no one will march across the stage and receive diplomas or degrees this year due to the pandemic. Understandably, they approach the future with both excitement and anxiety, but can’t be sure if classes will be held or they will be allowed to take residence on campus.
My family is well past graduation ceremonies. Our son received his graduate degree two year ago this spring, but, for the most part, the educational phase for our three children has been over for some time. They are married, settled into careers, and raising children of their own.
Daughter Sarah’s graduation from college, almost eighteen years ago, still stands out most memorably in my mind. She had good friends in college; her school kept many traditions to mark that special occasion. I especially remember a special ceremony the girls in her college residence observed. On an evening prior to graduation day, they gathered together to reminisce, and the seniors brought small gifts to give the underclass women. The gifts were meant as a legacy keepsakes and mementoes of times together.
Our Gospel for this Sunday recalls the disciples gathering on the eve of the crucifixion to remember their ministry and anticipate a future that will be challenging. They reflect on the legacy of Jesus. He will no longer be there to guide the disciple’s ministry and does not want the disciples to feel untethered, left alone and without direction. He recognizes their schooling by him has ended. He wants them to remember what he taught so they may face what the future holds. It’s not a graduation exactly, but Biblical scholars call it the Farewell discourse.
Here Jesus says to the disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” His commandments lay at the center of his legacy for the disciples. Soon, Jesus will no longer be physically present, as they once knew Him. He was preparing them for life without His bodily presence, something today’s Christians well understand. Thus, Jesus emphasized how His followers were to continue that legacy. He may leave: but he modeled for them God’s way and obeyed the commandments.
We might ask, what were the commandments Jesus referred to? Earlier in the gospel, Jesus reminds His disciples he gives them a new commandment: to love one another, as he loved them (John 13:34). He goes on to say this is how everyone will know that they are his followers, by their love (John 13:35).
What does love mean? Our society is obsessed with the notion of love. It is in our romantic comedies, showing us in the end true love always prevails. It is in our books, which help us to reflect on the different ways we show and receive love. It is in our music, no matter the genre. We even have a Valentine’s Day dedicated to celebrating love, as if it is the only day all year where showing our love counts most.
In the Gospel, we learn what love means to Jesus, as the legacy he leaves for his disciples. He says to them, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever” (John 14:16). Out of Jesus’ love for his followers and for God’s love of both Jesus and humanity, an Advocate would be sent to Jesus’ followers. Thus, after Jesus was no longer present to His followers, the Spirit will walk with and guides them the way Jesus walked with them and guided them. The Spirit would be with the followers, as Jesus was with them. Jesus knew His followers needed assistance living a life of love, as He, the ultimate embodiment of love, did. Luckily, for them and us, the Spirit they received would be with them forever: it was with them and within them. The Spirit would be part of his legacy, reminding his followers of his example and guiding them, as they tried to live according to it.
Love means to be an advocate, to give oneself for others, as Christ gave himself for us. This definition of love is apparent throughout the Gospels. We see Jesus loving, advocating for, and ministering to the poor and the marginalized, women, persons with disabilities, lepers, strangers and the imprisoned. He fed the hungry and healed the sick. The list goes on. These are all part of his legacy. We continue loving our neighbor and seeing them, as God sees us all, in word and in deed. This Spirit still moves among and within us today as we continue Jesus’ work of love! We too have not been left alone in the task we are called to as believers. But how are we to live into Jesus’ legacy? How do we reflect, live into, and embody love?
We show love as individuals and as a community of faith. We are advocates as a church. We preach and teach messages of love. We advocate through hospitality. We also show love as a church outside of the church building, being a public witness of God’s love. We strive to dismantle systems that keep people in poverty by advocating for human rights. We listen to people in the community who are deemed voiceless, as we meet them in the community or when they enter our churches. We must journey with persons as they seek to grow deeper in their relationships with God and with their neighbor. We must create disciples of love.
Two years ago, my mother passed away at the age of ninety-one years. She worked as a nurse for a doctor in Rochester, Illinois and then at a retirement residence run by Roman Catholic nuns. Several months before her death, I received in the mail a handwritten copy of what she asked said in her obituary. As I read her notes, it dawned on me that this was her legacy. When all was said and done, she wanted to be remembered as a nurse who had faithfully served others.
That raises a question for you and me. What will our legacy be? In that upper room, Jesus told his disciples his legacy would be his love for others. We would remember him by his love. So, what will your legacy be. How will others remember you? Take time today and jot down on paper what you believe you have accomplished and how you want others to remember you. When you finish, read your words and ask, if love, as your legacy, is evident on that piece of paper and in your life. If it isn’t, now is the time to effect the changes in your life that you, like Jesus Christ, may have a legacy of love to represent your faith. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.