Can something be beautiful and ominous at the same time?
Think of billowing storm clouds. The sun glints brilliantly off their contours and edges. Their majestic beauty can be breathtaking.
Unless you’re in flood-ravaged Nebraska, where water has devastated property and drowned livestock. Or unless you’re hiking in the rocky ravines and slot canyons of the Southwest, where flash floods can kill. Some things can be both beautiful and ominous.
It seems to me that “love” is one such thing.
Love—what could be more beautiful? Yet my sinful self paints “love,” the command from my Creator, in dark hues. First there’s the stubborn resistance: “Why should I love? People don’t love me the way I deserve, so why should I bend over backward to love them?” Then there’s the sad reality that the people closest to me, the people I should find easiest to love, are often the ones I find most frustrating and difficult to love. Finally there’s the guilt, the realization to which the command to love brings me: so often I simply fail to love. And it’s not only people that I fail to love, but God himself.
But this evening we see love in a new light. “It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). Here we see Jesus, our righteousness, loving and serving those close to him. He washes their feet—the same feet that will run away from him. Here we see Jesus giving his body and blood in a simple but breathtaking meal. In this meal is pure love that forgives sin and rebellion. Here we see Jesus’ love in his active obedience, as he fulfills the command to love. On this same night we see Jesus’ love in the passive obedience of letting himself be betrayed, arrested, convicted, and sent to crucifixion.
This love from Jesus will come yet again tonight in the word of his grace and in the saving gift of his Supper. This love will cover us with his righteousness. This love will forgive us all our lovelessness. Let’s receive this love with thankful hearts.
And why not let this love lead us? Why not let it move us to reconcile with the people we’ve failed to love or with those who have been loveless toward us? Why not let this love move us to love and live for the one who lived and died and lives again for us? “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12,13).
Things both beautiful and ominous—I suppose Holy Thursday falls into that category. Jesus leaving the Upper Room to go to his betrayal. The altar solemnly being stripped. But there’s love on this night, too. See it’s breathtaking beauty.