Lessons from the Upper Room

By: Tracy Cooney
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
As Peter wrote to the early church about brotherly affection and love, I wonder if he was remembering words he had heard in an upper room. He sat at the Passover table the night before Jesus’s death and was mortified by his teacher’s opening move. Jesus set aside His robes and stooped to the floor to wash His disciples’ feet. How humiliating–the greatest becoming the least. Peter didn’t understand that the dining room had just become a classroom.

They were celebrating a centuries-old rescue that night. This was the night the Jewish people told the story of death passing over their ancestors’ homes, marked by the blood of a spotless lamb. A night celebrating an end to their slavery in Egypt. At this time of remembrance, Jesus wanted His twelve closest friends with Him, not so He could be served but so He could serve them. He offered them a new reminder for an even greater rescue. Yet in a few hours, all those feet He washed would flee. He offered bread to one that would betray Him, wine to another who would deny Him. Then He asked His friends to show they belong to Him by loving one another in just the same way.

The new commandment Jesus offered that night is one His church has struggled with ever since. Unity is difficult. We disagree. We fail each other. We are a table of imperfect people, who, on this side of heaven, are bound to fall short in our aim of loving one another well. Jesus knew this. After all, He welcomed both a tax collector and a zealot at His own table. He wasn’t guaranteeing uniformity of thought or personality. He was guaranteeing His Spirit. He knew exactly what was needed to take a patchwork group of people and bind them together in love.

What could be more radical than this? In a culture that feeds on discord, that thrives on outrage, what could be more shocking than a group of people serving each other despite their differences? Nothing could set us apart more loudly than the quiet act of loving. The fruit we bear to the world shows the vine we belong to.

So we set aside our garments of pride and we wash one another’s feet. We refuse to fight over the best seat at the table. We serve each other knowing full well we will all fail at some point. That’s what grace is for. When we are tempted to forget our rescue, we offer a reminder to our brothers and sisters: “The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you.”

In all of this, we stun a raging world peering in from the outside. May they see peace when they look through our windows. May they see humility. May they find us enjoying one another. May the way we treat our church body beckon them to step inside.

May they know we are Christians by our love. 
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