The glory of love

No, I’m not about to break into some cheesy pop song; I’m not talking about being aglow with romance or infatuation.

I’m talking about the glory of what makes God God.

Imagine the scene. It’s the Last Supper. When Judas leaves the room to set his traitorous plan in motion, Jesus turns to the remaining eleven to speak. He knows he’s about to leave them, and that they will be frightened and lost, at least for a time. What should he say?

Yes, he will reassure them that they won’t be alone. Yes, he will promise to come back. But as soon as Judas leaves, his first words are these:

Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. (John 13:31-32, NRSV)

Glory. Jesus refers to God’s glory five times. The hour has come; Jesus is on an inexorable path to the cross. He doesn’t say, “And now, the villain has left to do his dirty work, but everything will come out right in the end.” He doesn’t say, “I have to go through a bad patch here, but don’t worry, God will be glorified.” No: God has been glorified now, already, and will continue to be glorified, in himself and in the Son.

Why? Again, it’s because Jesus has begun walking the path leading to Golgotha.

There is, of course, nothing particularly glorious about crucifixion. Quite the contrary. But the cross reveals the glory of God’s love, reveals that sacrificial love is of the very nature of God.

Ponder that for a moment. It’s easy to think of God in terms of power: the power to create, to overwhelm, to do whatever God pleases to do. The cross is a quick fix to a nasty little problem, one that might have been avoided if only his human creatures had stuck to the plan.

But Jesus seems to think that the Passion itself reveals God’s glory, the radiance of God’s essence and nature. And the word that best describes that essence, that sums up what the cross reveals, is love. This isn’t something God had to do to fix what humanity broke. This is who God is. To the core.

We hear love in the way Jesus tells his disciples that he has to leave: “Little children, I am with you only a little longer…” (vs. 33).  And of course, we hear love in the words that come next:

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. (vss. 34-35)

The other gospels speak of love of God and neighbor as the two great commandments; here, it is the “new commandment,” given by Jesus to help prepare the disciples to carry on in his physical absence — because they must not only continue to teach as Jesus taught, but to live as he lived, to embody the presence of Jesus to others.

Jesus has loved and served them well, even to the point of washing their dirty feet. So too must they love and serve one another. That will be the mark by which they are known to have been with Jesus, to have had their lives shaped by him.

This is how Jesus begins his long goodbye: by commissioning his disciples to embody the glory of God in their love for one another. John will remember the lesson well; it will infuse all his later letters to the church.

We might cringe a little at the idea that others are supposed to see the character of God in us. Surely there are days, perhaps seasons, in which we see little of it ourselves.

But if we are disciples of Jesus, that is the truth of who we are, of who we are meant to be.