Another Silly Love Song
Was John or Paul right? Not St. John or St. Paul but John Lennon or Paul McCartney? After the Beatles broke up in 1970, Lennon claimed that what McCartney wrote for the group was only silly love songs. In 1976, Paul released "Silly Love Songs" which says the world hasn't had enough of them. The song was his biggest hit (songfacts.com). So whose right? Have we had enough silly love songs or can we stand one more from the upper room only hours before Jesus is betrayed?
This silly love song flows from the Son's betrayal. The first note is "When Judas was gone". That note introduces a whole stanza. Gone to meet with the enemies of Jesus; gone to lead them to a place they could arrest Jesus away from the crowds; gone to betray Jesus with a kiss which surely was the kiss of death as Jesus' enemies intended to kill Him. This starts like no silly love song ever did. Okay, the 1972 Theme from Love Story does strike the same somber, growing darkness, billowing clouds feel.
But what's this? No sooner does that dark note sound then the tone shifts to one of glory. "Now" says Jesus, as Judas is out in the darkness of night to do the darkest deed ever. "Now is the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in Him." Suddenly the song shifts into the royal notes of Beethoven's Ode to Joy.
And this glorifying of God by the Son is reciprocated by God glorifying the Son and this takes place at once. I know; I know. You're hearing the majestic Ride of the Valkyries here, but you really should be hearing the earthy notes of "bulls and blooddust and mud". Right now God is glorifying His only beloved Son by having Him betrayed to a fate worse than death. Why? Because God's glory is not to do what anyone can do: save the savable, heal the healthy, glorify the godly. God's glory is to save the unsavable, reach the unreachable, redeem the irredeemable, forgive the unforgiveable. And He does that by sacrificing His holy, blameless, pure Son in place of ungodly, defiled, disgusting sinners like you and me. God's greatest pleasure, even greater than His pleasure in His only beloved Son, is to give the kingdom to sinners; to do this, it costs the holy precious blood of His Son to pay for it. So, as with no other silly love song, the love song between Father and Son is Darth Vader's theme song.
But that's between them. What's going on is for us and our salvation, but that too, is too big for us to get our head around, so Jesus seeks to prepare His children for whom He is entering the gathering darkness, for whom He will sacrifice everything to redeem, to save, to forgive. It's like the last verse of Country Bumkin. Jesus knows He's dying and there's nothing they can do about it, but like the woman in the song Jesus seeks to soften the blow. "My children," says Jesus. This is a term of affectionate endearment but has no implication of childishness. This is Brian's Song from the 1971 movie of the same name. NFL player Brian Piccolo knows he's dying of cancer and his friend and fellow player Gale Sayers can't help in any way. He's just going to watch him die.
If you don't know the movie, you do know this scene. A parent being wheeled into the operating room. Jesus' children can't go where He is going the dust and the mud, the bulls and the blood of the beatings, whipping, nailing, crucifying that He will endure to spare and save them. They can no more go with Jesus then His enemies could. "Just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come." You think this is the scene where the parent has got to get the child to leave him for his own good. So he calls him names; says, "I never wanted you around." He might even slap the child. But you'd be wrong to hear a gut-wrenching, heart-rending song now. This isn't Seven Spanish Angels, but you can't not hear that because you're not remembering 2 things.
First, Jesus did say these same words to those who didn't believe in Him. In John 8:21 He says, "I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come." Did you hear the notes that were omitted from what Jesus says to His children? His enemies would die in their sins, but not these little children, not you, not anyone in Christ. His enemies are hearing the drumming, dunning music outside the wicked witches castle in Oz. Not you little children. Jesus going away is fatal for Him but not for you. For you, it's forgiving, renewing, refreshing. Well it will be, and that's the second difference. In the verse right after our text, Jesus says again "Where I am going, you cannot come." Then adds "but you will follow later." Add into this silly love song comes the lyric from the Easter hymn. "Made like Him, like Him we rise; ours the cross, the grave, the skies."
So the dust and the mud, the bulls and the blood aren't all there is? There's more than Gale Sayers helplessly watching Brian Piccolo die. There's something to this love song that's not silly at all. The children of Jesus are on the same path as He was, but the cross comes to us not to pay for our sins but because our sins have been paid for; the grave comes to us not as the last great humiliation it was for the God-Man Jesus, but as the final burial place of our Old Adam who will never rise again to dog our steps, to pollute our thoughts, to make us ever dirty in body and soul. And the skies are ours too. Like the poem says we will slip the surly bonds of earth, and dance the skies on laughter-silvered wings. We will do a hundred things we have not even dreamed of. We will, as another song has it, fly "higher than the eagle", and put out our "hand and touch the face of God." This is the love song that Jesus definitely wants you to hear even from the somber upper room. How do I know that? Because right after not only assuring Peter he would follow Him but that he would deny Him, Jesus astoundingly says: "Let not your hearts be troubled."
The love song between Father and Son which is all glorious gives way to Jesus' love for us showing that the painful, damming way of the cross He is going, we won't go. Then these notes of reassurance give way to love literally in one another. How bizarre, right? But don't get hung up on Jesus saying, "A new command I give you." There are several Greek words for "command". This one emphasizes the absolute authority of the one giving it. It indicates Jesus speaks here as "very God of very God." Using this word for command' rather than one of the 3 others, shows were not in the area of the Law as opposed to the Gospel but in a new way of looking at things: new precepts, new assumptions. So, don't let command' here introduce the heavy, hammer ringing notes of the law.
But what about the word new' in front of command? Don't get hung up there either. There's 2 Greek words for new: one as in brand new, i.e. never having existed before; the other new' in the sense fulfilled. What Jesus gives us is a fulfilled precept. It's a gift to us, not a duty, not a burden. Jesus says, "A new command I give you." On His deathbed, Jesus doesn't give out the proverbial white elephant. In 17th century India and Thailand, a king would give a real albino elephant to a subordinate he disliked. The white elephant was regarded as holy. It not only couldn't be killed but had to be provided with special food and a place where people could come to worship it. "The gift would, in most cases, ruin the recipient" (phrases.org). Do you think Jesus is some pagan, vengeful despot wishing to saddle you with a "gift" to ruin you? If so hear no love song playing, but "Song Sung Blue."
Luther's post-Communion Collect we'll pray today shows the proper relation to the first part of our text talking about what God in Christ would do for the salvation of sinners and the last part, our love in one another. The Collect dates to 1526, but Luther gets the phrasing from much older prayers (Reed, 381). In the Collect we pray that Almighty God, of His mercy would "strengthen us through" the gift of Christ's Body and Blood "in faith toward Thee and in fervent love toward one another." Believe all that God gives you here: all of His grace, all of His mercy, all of His peace and all of His love. Believe all of your sins are forgiven not a one remembered; believe that God has redeemed your crosses, sanctified your grave, and gives you the skies. This faith changes everything. This leads to fervent love toward one another. This is the Cowsills "The Rain, the Park and Other Things." This faith sees others as having "Flower in her hair/ Flowers everywhere." Faith in the truth of who God is in Christ and what He has done in Christ leads to "The 59th Street Bridge Song" and the exclamation of not just "Life, I love you," but others, for "all is groovy" in this faith.
Seems a bridge too far, doesn't it? Silly love songs are like that. They sing of things so wonderful they are silly. But when Jesus says, "By this all men will know that you are by disciples, if you love one another," this love is not the sweet affectionate love of feelings, but that of intelligence and purpose. It's a love not of this world but of God in Christ through His Spirit. It's a love that doesn't wink away sins and is tough enough to love the other even when the other doesn't love you. And the construction shows that Jesus expects that this loving will be done (Lenski, 962). That's because Jesus is gifting us with a new reality where an out of this world love commands the day.
Love songs do sound silly when you're not in love. Then they are cloying, saccharine, and unrealistic. But then what happens? To quote Paul McCartney, "I only know that when I'm in it/ It [love or love songs] isn't silly at all." And you little children, says Jesus, are in it. "God so loved you that He gave His only beloved Son" and John, saint not Lennon, replies, "We love because God first loved us." Amen to that lyric. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday after Easter (20190519); John 13: 31-35