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  • Writer's picturePastor Liz

A Love Beyond Death

Updated: Mar 28

Last Sunday we gathered around the table to tell the story of the final days of Jesus's life. As a way to mark this Holy Week, I've edited it as a written reflection.

Matthew 26:17 - 19 While they were still in Jerusalem, on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread or Passover, the community of followers came to Jesus, asking, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover meal?”  He said, “Go into the city, to a certain person, say, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my followers.’” So the disciples did just as Jesus instructed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

Feminist theologian Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza writes 

“Jesus and the people, men and women, who were his early followers sought to bring about the “commonwealth of God,” an alternative world free of hunger, poverty, and domination. A vision of healing and liberating practices that were already present in the inclusive table community of the Jesus movement.”

Communion is a tangible reminder and invitation to the inclusive table community of the the commonwealth of God. With a bite of something and a sip of something we participate in a remembering, not of death but of living community. We partake of communion at every dinner table, every raucous brunch, every picnic or tired dinner on the couch. Potlucks, and meal trains, home cooked, GrubHub delivery, drinks at the bar after work, communion is community. Jesus created a ritual to remind us of the beloved community, the “commonwealth of God,” created in every moment, in every time. 

Kurt Struckmeyer reimagined (and I adapted) the words of institution, inviting us to a simple moment of living love.

“Long ago our ancestors knew love’s power and they became the tellers of love’s tale. Love bound them in covenant, teaching them to live in community with compassion and concern for the poorest among them. Yet centuries of domination and violence shaped a different kind of community based on selfishness and inequality. In the struggle against oppression, Jesus became the face of love, showing us the way to abundant life. In word and deed, he announced love’s new reign of justice, reconciliation, and peace. Filled with the courage and passion of love’s spirit, he gave his life to challenge the unjust systems of this world. On the night of his betrayal and arrest, as he shared a meal with his friends. Jesus took bread,  blessed it, broke it, and gave it to those around the table,  saying: “Share this bread among you; this represents my body which will be broken for justice. Do this to remember me.” In the same way, he took the cup,  blessed it, and gave it to his friends, saying: “Share this wine among you; this is my blood which will be shed for liberation. Do this to remember me.” Jesus had always loved his own, but now he showed how perfect this love was. Jesus always loved his friends, his family, his chosen family, his beloved, around the table that night, he showed them just how deep that love was. “[He] rose from the table, took off his robe and wrapped a towel around his waist. He poured water into a basin, kneeling before each of the ones he loved, he began to wash their feet, drying them with the towel around his waist. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him,  “Teacher, you are not going to wash my feet, are you?” Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I’m doing, but later you will understand.” “No!” Peter said. “You will never wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “If I do not wash your feet, you won’t have a place with me. It is this act of love that binds us all together” Simon Peter said, “Not only my feet but also my hands and my head!” Jesus responded, “Those who have bathed are clean and only need to have their feet washed. You friends are clean, but not every one of you.”  He knew who would betray him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you is clean.” After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table. He said to them, “Do you understand what I have done? You call me ‘Teacher’, and you are right, I am. If I, your Teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do.”

Washing feet was an act of necessity. Often done by women or servants, they would wash the dirt and mud off before entering a home. 

With water and dirt and fleshy feet, Jesus models the “commonwealth of God” by transgressing social and religious norms as an act of deep love. And in the directive, “do as I have done.” It becomes an act of love beyond that room, with and for all people, in all generations. He creates from the mundane and menial, a ritual act of love and instructs us to do the same.

Afterward, Jesus returns to his friends laying casually around the table, probably full and sleepy. Unlike the iconic painting of the last supper by Leonardo da Vinci they wouldn’t have had chairs instead they would be sitting on the floor, reclining on mats or pillows. 

Simon Peter becomes curious about Jesus’s response to him asking for his head and hands to be washed as well; “Those who have bathed are clean and only need to have their feet washed. You friends are clean, but not every one of you.”

The scripture (King James version because sometimes I can't believe the wording! ) says, 

“Now there was, leaning on Jesus’ bosom, one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke. Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, “Lord, who is it?’”

Simon Peter turns to the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” who was laying on Jesus’s chest, and asks him to ask Jesus what he had meant and who was the one who wasn’t clean.

This exchange slips right by. In all the years I’ve read or heard this story, I never noticed the specificity of the description. The one who was sitting next to Jesus was laying against Jesus’s chest (!!!). Laying on some’s chest is an act of intimacy that was not shared with anyone else around the table. The inclusion of this descriptive detail articulates there is something special about the relationship between Jesus and the one whom he loved. 

Author and theologian, Theodore Jennings, writes in his book, The Man Jesus Loved;

Jesus' love for all his disciples is a love to the end, an intimate friendship, yet at the same time Jesus has a different love for one of them. The mark of that difference is the posture of bodily intimacy. This physical intimacy differentiates Jesus' love for this disciple from the intimacy of friendship expressed in Jesus’ discourse on love and even from the physical intimacy expressed toward all the disciples in the foot washing.” (23)

With this context alone I find it impossible to argue that the disciple whom Jesus loved was just a friendly disciple. Whether or not it was a sexual relationship, he was more than a friend. 

Later that week, Jesus was betrayed by one of his own friends, he was arrested, interrogated, and beaten. It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The notice of the formal charge against him was written, “The king of the People.” They crucified two others with him, one on his right and one on his left. From noon until three in the afternoon the whole sky was dark. Jesus’s mother and aunt, along with Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, and the one whom Jesus loved stood near the cross. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. After this, knowing that it was finished, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you left me?” With a loud cry he died.

In these final moments of Jesus life, the specialness of one whom Jesus loved is made more pronounced. After he was betrayed by Judas and condemned to death, he was stripped of his clothes and crucified. His mother and aunt, along with Mary, the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, and the one whom Jesus loved stood near the cross.

“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” (John 19: 25-26, NRSV)

Jesus entrusted not only his mother into the home of the one he loved, but he entrusted the one who he loved to be his mother’s son. Far more specific then the “look after one another,” he instructed the disciples earlier, this action is an acknowledgement of the special relationship between Jesus and the one he loved, similar to that of a marriage. If the one Jesus loved had been a woman, with the death of the son and husband, the mother would take his wife as a daughter, and the wife would take his mother as her own mother. Just as with Ruth and Naomi, they adopt one another. Jesus instructs his mother and the one he loved to adopt each other. With the death of the one they both loved, they become family to each other. 

These relationships and the story of the one who Jesus loved are ignored and diminished with a traditional heteronormative reading of the text. As queer ones, who are also ignored and our stories diminished, we can find a deep connection with the relationship between Jesus, the one he loved, and his mother. For generations, without the protections of marriage, life-long and committed relationships of LGBTQ+ couples have been disregarded as simply “roommates.” Upon the death of one of them, their house, cars, bank accounts, photographs and the mementoes of their life together might have been snatched away at the whim of the deceased’s family. Jesus entrusted his beloved into the love of his mother, and entrusted his mother into the love of his beloved. A love beyond death. 

On Sunday we tell the next chapter of the life, death and love of Jesus.

Sunday, March 31, 4 pm.


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