“What the heck is Monday Thursday? And how can it be Monday when it’s Thursday? I don’t get it.”
For most of my life, the churches I attended ignored the Christian calendar. But when in college I encountered Maundy Thursday I was confused. It didn’t help that I misheard the name, thinking it was called Monday Thursday.
And it was many years later that I actually took the time to figure out what Maundy means. (I’m a bit slow on the uptake sometimes …)
Maundy comes from the Latin maundatum novum which translates as “new commandment.” We get our English word “mandate” from maundatum. And the mandate referred to on this day during Holy Week (the days from Palm Sunday to Easter) arises from what Jesus says in John13:34-35 —
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
If we were to rename Maundy Thursday, we could call it Love One Another Day. Move over Valentines Day!
But this isn’t just Be Nice To People Day, this is Love Others In The Same Way Jesus Has Loved You Day. Now, Jesus hasn’t yet died for us in this passage, but that’s in view. Also in view is what has just taken place in the passage leading up to this mandate.
Jesus has just shown his love for his disciples by washing their feet, a nasty job reserved for servants in a culture where feet were exposed to the dust and dung of their unpaved, uncleaned streets and pathways. But not only was it a lowly job, it was an intimate act, touching sensitive soles. And it’s a refreshing act, cooling and relieving hot and tired feet. So much cultural and physical symbolism was tied up in this one act done by Jesus that it became the defining image for how Christians ought to treat one another and especially how Christian leaders are to view their role within the church.
When I first became a pastor, I was given a stole made of terry cloth. Its purpose was to mimic the towel Jesus wrapped around himself as he washed the feet of his disciples. Its goal was to remind me that my job didn’t give me authority over the congregation but was a call to lovingly serve them. (Maybe all pastors and leaders in churches ought to be given towels as the primary tool of their jobs.)
But not only did Jesus wash his disciples’ feet, but he ate a meal with them. And included in both the washing and the eating was the disciple who would betray Jesus to his death, Judas.
The service and love that Jesus offers includes his enemy, the one who arranged the arrest that led to his death, the one whom Satan entered (John 13:27). This is the kind of love Jesus calls on us to replicate.
The love Jesus mandates for us is a humble love, a bending down and doing the dirty job no one else wants to do kind of love.
The love Jesus mandates for us is an intimate love, a getting to know the soft parts of others and handling them with respect kind of love.
The love Jesus mandates for us is a reviving love, a cleaning, restoring, invigorating kind of love.
The love Jesus mandates for us is a dying love, an embracing the enemy and laying down your life for your friends kind of love.
With a wash and a meal (some look at John 13 as the institution of baptism and communion in John’s gospel), Jesus offers us two images of the one new command he gives us: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.