We love because He first loved us

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A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you love one another. --John 13:34 NKJV

Today is Maundy Thursday, the beginning of the liturgical commemoration of our Lord's Passion.

Most of us who have grown up in the Lutheran tradition associate this day most of all with the institution of the Lord's Supper, and Christ's gift of His very body and blood in, with, and under simple bread and wine as His personal assurance to each of us, individually, that our sins are forgiven; as a way to live in us, so that we might live in Him. Lovers do not encounter each other so intimately as our Lord encounters the least sanctified of those who belong to Him in this Sacrament. He actually becomes part of us, and incorporates us anew into Himself. Through His sacramental body and blood, Christ nourishes and sustains His body, the Church.

But this day actually takes its name from the passage above, John 13:34. "Maundy" comes from the Latin word mandamus, meaning "commandment." In the next few days, Christians will assemble to hear once again the story of the greatest love of all: Christ's love for the human race, that led Him to the cross that whoever believes in Him should live forever (John 3:16).

That story, as compiled by Reformer Johannes Bugenhagen, can be found here. Even if you will hear it in church during the next few days, read it again. It's a daunting command Christ gives us when He tells us to love each other as He has loved us. But then, we are given the strength to love and forgiven our failure to love through this very Word- heard, poured, eaten and drunk.

We do not learn to love by reading a best-seller we buy in a Christian bookstore (unless, perhaps, the Bible, or some other book which speaks of what He has done for us, rather than exhorting us to do this or that for Him). We do not learn to love by following a program, or by asking ourselves what Jesus would do, or by trying to make our lives "purpose driven." We learn to love by taking our failure to love to Him, to the cross, day after day, that we may be healed and forgiven. We learn to love through daily contrition and repentance. It is through that process that we experience His love, and learn ourselves to love.

We love because He first loved us.