Ellie Goulding sings the beautiful song “How long will I love you.” For me it captures the wonderful sense of a faithful loving relationship. I have to add the note of caution there that this is my understanding because so often you think a pop song is about something nice and lovely and it turns out to be about betrayal and infidelity. So let’s hope that’s not the case on this occasion. These words are beautiful and powerful:
How long will I love you?
As long as stars are above you
And longer, if I can.
How long will I need you?
As long as the seasons need to
Follow their plan. 
The lyrics are beautiful but they also haunt us because in reality we fall so short of that ideal. Faithful love is rare. People can fall in and out of romantic love, just like that.
If we are honest, we also know that we end up failing, letting down and hurting those closest to us, those we should love the most. We also find that we are hurt the most by those we love and who claim to love us.
So if this is our image of love, then when we ask the question “What difference does love make” then the cynic’s answer may well be “not a lot in the long run.”
And then we come to this little part of the Easter week narrative.
“Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end.2 It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.”
How does Jesus love?
Notice three things. First of all we are told that Jesus loves his disciples completely, or to the very end. Secondly notice the context in which he does this. He knows that he hasn’t got long before he will die and he knows the manner of his death, he will be betrayed, denied and deserted. Thirdly, notice what love means here. How does Jesus love? He loves them by serving them. Jesus stoops down and washes their feet. These are the very people who will betray him, deny him and desert him.
For Jesus, love means giving himself for others and being prepared to do something for them whether or not they can do it for themselves and regardless of whether or not they deserve it. Later in the passage, we will see Jesus talk with Peter and realise that this isn’t just a symbolic gesture, nor even just about being humble. The footwashing points us towards His ultimate act of love and service. The completion of Jesus’ love is seen in his readiness to die in the place of and on behalf of the very people who betray him, deny him and desert him.
What difference does this love make?
I want to suggest three vital applications from this.
First of all, if you have ever been betrayed, denied or deserted then know this: Jesus is the one who knows what you have been through and are going through. He knows and gets your pain. This means that in him we can find someone who offers compassion, comfort and healing. Discover in him the faithful friend who will never let you down. He will not betray you deny you or desert you. He will be your friend forever.
Secondly, Jesus is the one who loves us even though we are people who betray, deny and desert. He sees what we are like, he sees our true horribleness and he chooses to love us. Jesus is the one who is able to forgive us and to change us. The Bible talks about him giving us new hearts, hearts that beat with faithful love.
Thirdly, Jesus is the one who loves us even though we actually have betrayed him, denied him and deserted him. This is the heart of the Gospel. The bible tells us that we should love God with our whole being and yet we do not. We live for ourselves, we act and think selfishly, we make up our own rules, we live as though there is no God. Yet just as Jesus chose to love the disciples who betrayed, denied and deserted him. So he chooses to love us.
Often at this point in Easter week, we think about Jesus’ love and service and how it motivates us to love and service. That’s true and a part of the story of changed hearts. But greater still is the truth that his love and service to us is so complete that we can never pay him back and he never asks us to. He simply invites us to receive and enjoy his love and forgiveness.
 How long will I love you, The Waterboys (1990), also performed by Ellie Goulding on the album Halcyon Days, 2013.
 John 13:1-5.