…You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
As we push into this back half of the Easter season, we continue to be prepared by the risen Christ to be an Easter community. Now that we have lived through the Three Days, come to empty tomb, and been met by the risen Christ, God shaping and transforming us into a new creation, into a new family of faith, a community tasked with being Christ’s Body given for the the sake of the world.
We continue hearing Jesus speak to his disciples from the moment of the last supper, words that began with the image of the vine and the branches last week. Today, Jesus is giving final instructions. Preparations for leaving. Jesus is giving his disciples and friends some last words to live by as a community.
As the disciples eat their last meal with Jesus, and as he leaves this commandment to love one other, their whole world was changing.
3 years prior, they had been called to this ministry by the wandering teacher and rabbi. They had followed him around Galilee as he preached, performed miracles, exercised demons and met with the crowds. But lately Jesus was clashing more and more with the religious authorities, he was talking about dying, he was describing a new future for his community of followers… one where they took on more responsibility.
And now, now in Jerusalem, Jesus has come riding in like a king. He had been met by the cheering crowds but tensions were high. And the sentiment of the city was changing. The authorities seemed to be planing something.
This was a world of danger. This was a world of risk. And this community of Jesus’ followers was under threat. Their little community was in danger of crumbling. It would be easy to just abandon ship. It would be easy to run and hide. It would be easy to just look for themselves and run.
This frightened and scared group of followers was who Jesus was talking to. All the talk of a command to love, the reminder that they were his friends, that they were chosen by God. Jesus was worried that his followers might crumble and fall apart under the tense pressure of Holy Week. And he was right. Judas betrayed him. The rest fell asleep in the garden, Peter denied him in the courtyard and the rest fled.
Certainly, we know what it is to live in a world surrounded by threats and danger. We know what it is to run the risk fo crumbling.
With our communities trying to do what is best for our community and for our neighbours, we have been running the risk of crumbling. We have been in danger by forces outside of us and beyond our control. The reality of our own fragility, the possibility that our gathering might cause sickness and death has been held up to us nearly daily for year.
Still, long before the pandemic, churches have been facing the threat of decline, the loss of social pressures that helped folks just show up at our doors and become members.
And we haven’t been very good at dealing with this squeeze and this pressure. We have often taken the same routes the disciples have. We have hidden ourselves away at times, we have pulled back from community when things were hard, we have even denied knowing Jesus when it become uncomfortable to admit that we did.
And like Jesus’ disciples, we have started to crumble and fall apart. The church in our time has not always been a shining example of love for each other and the world that Jesus describes today.
So with his disciples frightened and afraid, with the church of 2021 frightened and afraid, Jesus reminds all of his disciples what this community is about and what it means to belong to one another and to belong to God.
As Jesus leaves these final instructions with the disciples, he isn’t scolding them for their fears and struggles of the present. Jesus is speaking about what is to come. Jesus is preparing them for a new future and a new reality. Abide in me as I have abided in you. Love each other as I have loved you. Bear good fruit, just as I have born fruit in you. Treat one another as friends, just as you are now my friends.
And then Jesus speaks one brief and short sentence. Perhaps the most important of all the instructions:
You did not choose me, but I chose you.
Hear the words of Jesus again:
You did not choose me, but I chose you.
Jesus reminds the disciples of this key and important truth of God’s mission in the world. God is the one doing the choosing. All along the way, as Peter tries to choose a different less dangerous path for Jesus. And Judas tries to get Jesus to show his true power by having Jesus arrested, hoping the Messiah will fight back and topple the Roman rule. As the temple authorities, Romans and the crowds try to gain power and control by putting Jesus, and therefore God, to death on the cross. Jesus chooses a different path. God chooses to face sin and death head on. And God chooses life. God chooses now.
Just like the disciples, we are tempted to crumble apart in the face of adversity. We are temped look out only for ourselves, to pull back from our sibling in Christ to protect ourselves.
Yet, in the midst of the dangers around us, in the midst of the struggles we face, the uncertainty we face, Jesus is calling us to remember who are. To remember who God has named us to be.
Jesus is reminding us that God has chosen us, we did not choose God. God has chosen us to be an Easter people. People claimed and gathered from the foot of the cross and taken to the empty tomb. People who might want to hide away, but to whom Jesus has appeared and given us peace.
Jesus has chosen us even in locked away homes, even when we cannot see one another face to face, Jesus has binds us together even with online worship, zoom gatherings, text messages and phone calls. Jesus makes us one body, though scattered through the shared word of Good News that we hear together week after week.
It might feel like it is all we can do but crumble in face of a third wave, more lockdowns and a promises end of the pandemic that just doesn’t seem to be getting closer. But Jesus’ disciples have been here before, they have faced all but certain ends to their community….
And the risen Christ has carried them through. The risen Christ has called them from their hiding places, locked doors and graves. This God of New Life that knows and claims us, binds back together in love. Not a commandment to follow, but a naming of the thing that holds us together. God’s love for us, and our love for each other.
Today, God reminds us again, when we most need to hear it: You did not choose me, but I chose you.