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Love is hard work

Bishop washing the feet of a young person

As we approach Holy Week, Rev. Haley Hansen illuminates the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and asks what it means for us to follow his example.

Associate Pastor, The Peoples Church of East Lansing

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34, NRSV).

One of my favorite pieces of scripture is the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in John 13. After the Passover meal, Jesus performs this task, which is usually reserved for household servants, and explains to the disciples that they, too, should care for one another in this way.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,” he says, “if you have love for one another” (v. 35). Year after year, I am moved by this scripture as it is read aloud during Maundy Thursday services. This story reminds me of the radical strangeness of Jesus’ love. It reassures me that the love of Jesus is not just a nice idea but an embodied practice.

However, we celebrate Maundy Thursday not only to remember Jesus’ love for us but also to remember his commandment to love one another. The “maundy” of Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin word mandatum, or mandate. Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples that they should try hard to love one another or do their best to love. Rather, he commands it.

Love is a commandment because Jesus knows that love is tough work. Love requires all sorts of difficult tasks from us: forgiveness, selflessness, humility, compromise, and on and on. Fortunately, love is not a solo endeavor but a communal way of life.

Young adults on a mission trip to Memphis
Motor City Wesley and The Peoples Church of East Lansing partnered on a spring break mission trip to Memphis, TN. During the weeklong trip, five students served at ministries throughout the city, including a hospitality center for the unhoused and an after-school program for refugee children. ~ photo courtesy Haley Hansen

Therefore, the church is our test kitchen and training ground. At their very best, our communities of faith are places where we learn to put our love into practice. The church is where we learn by example.

I often tell my parishioners that I’m a pastor not because I’m a really good Christian but because I want to learn how to be a Christ-follower from the very best of the best. Each week, I watch my community pray for and visit one another. I witness them support one another through difficulty and joy through cards, meal trains, and phone calls.

I also see them take their love for one another out into the world. I recently had the opportunity to take college students on a spring break mission trip to Memphis, TN. During this trip, the students were challenged to put their love into action by pulling weeds, painting, and serving coffee to people experiencing homelessness. Throughout the week, we often talked about how our work wasn’t “extra credit” in the life of faith. Instead, we reminded each other that service was an essential part of living out the love Christ calls each one of us to embody.

Love is hard work, but it is the work we are called to and the work we, as Christians, are defined by. The world will know we are Christians, not by our ideologies or morals. Rather, the world will know we are followers of Jesus by our love for one another and the world. May we follow Jesus’ command and do the hard but holy work of loving this Easter season.

Last Updated on March 25, 2024

The Michigan Conference