Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our collective hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

This morning, we stand on truly holy, sacred ground. We, like the disciples, overhear Jesus’ prayer to God the Father, his Father, on the eve of what he knows will be his last day on earth. You see, Jesus knows that when morning comes, he will surely be making his way to Calvary and the cross. Throughout the 17th chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus lifts up to God his deepest desires. This is the most intimate relationship he has, and you and I get to listen in.

Just to put this in context: this is what’s known as the very end of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse in the gospel of John. In the previous four chapters, Jesus is talking specifically to his disciples. They’re gathered around the table for the Last Supper. He shares with them the things he wants them to remember when he’s no longer physically present with them: the things he taught them, the feelings he had, the experiences they shared. He does all of this knowing that one of them will betray him; one will deny him not once, twice, but three times; and virtually all of them will desert him. And yet, he leaves with them what he wants them to carry on into the world when he’s no longer physically present.

We know at the heart of this is the commandment he gives them to “Love one another as I have loved you.” In the words we just heard, Jesus lifts up to God: Please watch after them. I’ve done what you gave me to do—what you sent me to do—to show them a way, to show them a different way of being in relationship, one with another and with you. I protected them, I guarded them, I guided them, and now I entrust them to your care. Nancy Ramsey puts it this way, “…the culmination of his work is that we know God through his life and ministry. His final hopes are not a celebration of himself, but the recognition that his life and ministry are windows into God’s love and saving purposes.”1

As a priest, I’ve had the privilege of being at bedside with people who know that their earthly life is about to come to a close. So often their concerns, what they share with me in that sacred intimate conversation, is their concern for those whom they love, the ones they’ll be leaving behind. Why would the humanness in Jesus be any different? He’s entrusting to God, the disciples, and you and me. Gail O’Day says, “Throughout the Farewell Discourse, Jesus has made promises to the disciples – and the reader – about the future and in this prayer, Jesus entrusts that future to God. Instead of entrusting the community’s future to the community itself, Jesus entrusts that future to God. Jesus’ final words before the hour are not last-minute instructions to the community about what it should do in Jesus’ absence; instead, his words turn the future of the community over to God.”2

That’s our legacy too. We’ve been entrusted to God. But as followers of Christ, Jesus showed us, and witnessed for us what was most important: that we love one another as Christ loved us. It’s no small order and it manifests itself in so many ways. Never has that love that surpasses all understanding been more urgently needed than it is today in this broken and hurting world we inhabit.

If you knew that tomorrow would be your last day, what would your prayer to God be? What would you lift up? I want this idea to stay with you for just a bit. When I was thinking about the self-sacrificial love of Christ who did it all out of love for you and for me, I was reminded of a story I shared with you some years ago of a small village in France by the name of Le Chambon. This village of 2,500 people did something quite extraordinary. During World War II, the French Huguenot pastor and his wife in that little village and some of their closest friends and church members committed together to try and save as many Jews during the Holocaust as they could. They hid them, they sheltered them, they fed them, they protected them, and they did so, knowing the consequences if they were discovered. They literally put their lives on the line to save others. In so doing, that one little village saved more lives, Jewish lives, than any other place in Europe. I think that the motto for that village was so beautifully captured in the inscription above the entrance of the doors to that church, which simply says, Love one another. They lived it, they embodied it. Some 80 years later, they’re still doing it. Over the years, they have welcomed in refugees from war-torn areas in Rwanda, Chechnya, the Congo, and other troubled places around the world.

What is it that enables people to live a love like that? Bringing the question forward, about three weeks ago, the Cathedral was profoundly honored to host a memorial service for the seven humanitarian aid workers from World Central Kitchen who were tragically killed in Gaza. It was an extraordinary service. José Andrés, the founder of World Central Kitchen, spoke and his words that day have stayed with me and continue to raise a question that I will later pose to you. On that day, Andrés talked about why they do what they do. He said, “We take risks because we want to change the world with something we all believe, deep down. All nationalities. All religions. All people:

Food is a universal human right. Feeding each other, cooking and eating together, is what makes us human. The dishes we cook and deliver are not just ingredients, or calories. A plate of food is a plate of hope. A message that someone, somewhere, cares for you.”3

There are so many ways that we can serve others— the real byproduct of the love of God in Christ that abides in each one of us. That love motivates us and leads us naturally to serve, to reach out. We don’t have to risk our lives in serving. I’ve given you two pretty extreme examples, but I can look around this cathedral and see so many of you who are engaged in ministries that are doing just that, reaching out, loving one another as Christ loved us.

If you are looking for a new or different way to serve: next Sunday, after this 11:15 service, the congregation will hold its ministry fair which will offer many different ways that we can serve and reach out to one another. Whether it’s making sandwiches for Martha’s Table, joining the Pastoral Care Card Ministry or our Sanctuary Ministry, there will be thirty plus ministries participating next week. So, pray about how God may be calling you to not just offer a plate of food, but a plate of hope to this hurting and broken world that so needs the love of Christ that surpasses all understanding. Amen.

1 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2, John 17:1-11, Nancy Ramsey (Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, Kentucky, 2010), pages 538-542.
2 The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Volume IX, “The Gospel of John,” Gail O’Day, (Abingdon Press: Nashville, Tennessee, 1995), page 797.
3 Jose Andres: ‘Food Can Never Be a Weapon of War’ – Washington National Cathedral


The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope