If you knew that it was getting close to your time to die, what words, what stories, what wisdom would you want to share with those around you?

It was just after Christmas - over ten years ago now - that my then 98-year-old grandmother had a pretty serious stroke and then a series of TIA’s (mini strokes). She was staying with my parents and during the weeks that followed there were plenty of deep, serious moments shared together but also plenty of humor - including my grandmother being convinced that she was now in a nursing home instead of at my parent’s house and commenting to many of us around her on “how nice it was of the nursing home to let your parents move in, too.”

And it was fascinating to observe the way in which my grandmother, as she was having these mini strokes, seemed to be traveling back in time, day by day, year by year, sharing stories familiar to many of us but also new ones, from earlier and earlier times in her life. The stories of what was most important. Stories my grandmother wanted us to hear about herself, and who she was, but it was clear that she also wanted us to know how these stories made up parts of who we were - and are – as well.

Stories, after all, are what hold us together. The humorous ones that families and friends retell, and the ones of tragedy and loss that make us hold hands or draw close in a hug even years after they happen. Stories form the fabric of our identities and the substance of the backbones that give us strength and direction to stand and move in our lives.

As Jesus gathered the disciples for that Last Supper so long ago, he knew that he was going to be dying soon, and he wanted to tell the disciples the most important things, remind them of the foundation of their stories and lives. Jesus wants to tell the disciples and us the story of God’s Great Love - for this world and for us - and of how God intended for us to share in this Deep Love from God by loving God in turn with all of our hearts and minds and souls and also by loving our neighbors. The Greatest Commandment, as it is called. There are a number of variations on how we say it, but it really boils down to Loving God and Loving Neighbor.

And when Jesus gives this command to love one another and neighbor he’s not just speaking of the Valentine’s Day romantic love of Hallmark cards, no! No, no, this is the deep Agape practice of loving at all times, in all places, especially when it is hard, and especially when it seems undeserved. Jesus knows what’s coming after he dies. Jesus knows what struggles all human lives will include. So, this is not just Jesus calling us to love the cute puppies and kittens and babies. This is Jesus calling us to deep practices of love. Think for a moment of the people you find difficult or impossible to love…these are the people Jesus is telling us we have to work on loving. These are the people we have to learn to hold in our hearts. I don’t want to do that sometime, maybe even ever, but this is the love Jesus is calling us to.

Now for all of us who might be thinking of how impossible that seems, we need to remember and remind each other that this work of love is not accomplished on our own! Quite the contrary. It is God, who poured out God’s own self to become Love incarnate as Jesus Christ. It is God - this Source – that gives us the capacity to radically love. Love by serving neighbors in need, helping them not just eat today but practice fishing for tomorrow and for a lifetime. Love by serving family and friends, serving through our churches. Love by rising up against injustice and rising up to participate in Love’s justice work for the marginalized, the widow, the poor. Love, love, love. Abundantly, extravagantly.

We may not know how many years we have to live - 98 like my grandmother? But we are given to know, if we will let God and Jesus help us to know it, that we have a deep purpose in this life. That amidst all the varied and changing stories of lives and the lives with which they will be intertwined and interwoven, there is Love deep and wide and vibrant waiting to be shared. Practicing this greatest commandment from our Savior will not be a cure all, but I guarantee that it will change the fabric of the stories that we might someday, like my grandmother, be telling to those around us, as we prepare to travel from this world to the next. Don’t we want a part of the epithet on our graves to read something like, “she or he or they practiced love radically”? Don’t we want this said or written up about our lives? Don’t we want the stories told about us to include the story of God’s servant Love made possible by Christ flowing through us to the world around us?

Tonight, on this first day of the three-part worship service called by the ancient word, “Triduum,” we are invited alongside Jesus and the disciples to consider again what is most important in our lives, and to consider Jesus’ invitation, Jesus’ command to Radical Love. The kind of deep loving that only Jesus’ dying and resurrection work of eternal Love can make possible. This is one heck of a good story. Amen.