The Mandate To Love: Maundy Thursday

The Mandate To Love: Maundy Thursday

Good Friday: April 18, 2019

Year C, Exodus 12:1-14;  Psalm 116:1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35

There was no recording of this sermon. The text is below.

Perhaps the most common question I get about Holy Weeks is about Maundy Thursday, or what’s known in other churches as Holy Thursday. The one thing people often ask is this: what does “Maundy” mean?

It’s a good question. Who uses the term “maundy” in their daily life? For those on the outside of the church, and even for those of us inside, it might just sound like a church service where we know we should want to go to it, but we have no idea why.

But before I talk about what the word means, I want to go back to that story we read from the Gospel. Jesus has gone to Jerusalem for the Passover. He’s gathered his twelve disciples there at the table. And he knows what is going to happen. He knows that by the end of the night one of them will betray him to the authorities. One will deny him three times. And all of them will leave him alone in his hour of greatest pain.

And yet, there he is. Breaking the bread and pouring the cup. Eating with them. Blessing them. Getting down on his knees and washing their feet, showing them his love and grace and compassion, in a time when we might have better understood his wrath or anger. Honestly, I think if this were to happen today, we’d shake our heads and say to Jesus, “stand up for yourself.” We live in a world where we are often surrounded by messages of retaliation, or vengeance, or an eye for an eye cries for justice, it’s a different message.

Jesus had done nothing wrong. He’d lived a life of non-violence, he’d healed the sick, raised the dead, and freed the captives. He’d brought hope and life to those who needed it the most.

And in the end, he was going to die. He was going to die a political death. Only the Romans could executive by crucifixion and it could only be done for threats to the Roman order. In the end, the goodness, and the kindness, and the compassion he had brought were more of a threat to the Roman authorities, as well as the religious authorities of his day, than any weapon or any army.

He so radically upset the status quo that they decided the authorities find their only choice is to kill him.

What was he doing the night before? He wasn’t running away. He wasn’t preparing for a battle. He wasn’t plotting his revenge. Instead, he was with the ones he loved most. The ones who loved him, but who weren’t perfect. The ones who knew who he was, and what he had done, and who would be the witnesses to his life after he was gone.

And that’s where that word “maundy” comes in. The word “maundy” comes from a Latin word: mandatum. And mandatum means “mandate” or a “commandment”. And when we talk about “Maundy Thursday” we’re talking about “mandate Thursday”. We’re talking about the night that Christ told his disciples exactly what he expected of them.

Because what do you do if you’re Jesus? What do you do if you know you are not going to be around much longer, and you have to tell the people you love the most, the ones who followed you, the ones who sometimes make big mistakes, how to keep moving in the right direction after you’re gone?

 “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Maundy Thursday is a message that all Christians need to hear and live. Tonight is not simply just one night of what we call the Triduum, or three services before Easter Sunday. It is a night on which we are reminded, we are mandated to hear that this is how Christ said other people would know us: by how we love one another.

In the acts of love that Jesus offered the night before he died, he bent down to wash the feet of his disciples. Foot washing was something done regularly in Jesus’ age because Peter was the only one who openly questioned—and protested—his Master’s actions. His understanding of Jesus’ behavior wouldn’t come until God gave the disciples His Holy Spirit. Only later would they comprehend the spiritual significance of this act of humility and the symbols Jesus instituted during that evening’s Passover service.

Jesus responded simply, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this” (John 13:7). Of course, Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit’s revelatory power, which would eventually guide the disciples’ understanding (John 16:13), enabling them to grasp the spiritual meaning of this physical act. Later they would understand that this ceremony signifies the Christian’s humble service to God, His Church and mankind.

In a few minutes, we’ll be washing feet. Some people may feel uncomfortable with it. We do this because we show through foot washing the servanthood, the love that Jesus shows through foot washing is a transformative love, a love that will stay imprinted and impressed upon the disciples. That image will stay with the disciples long after Jesus is gone.

The love that Jesus shows in the foot washing is unconditional love.

Most of us likely can’t ever offer the unconditional and complete love of Jesus, because we aren’t God, but we can certainly offer love and experience the love of other people.

We are certainly called to model our lives after Christ’s life, and we are called to this servant love, this agape love.

What does Jesus tell his disciples? “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”.

As we strive to love and serve one another in love, as we reenact the example Jesus gave us, we need to commit ourselves to the example Jesus gave us.

In a few minutes we will be celebrating Holy Communion together, and you’ll hear me repeat the words of institution, the phrases we are told Christ used as he broke bread and gave it to his disciples for the first time, on this same night many years ago. I’ll say to you that “on the night Christ was betrayed he took bread, and blessed it, and gave it to his disciples.”

You hear that all the time here, and if you are like me, you are uplifted by it.

But what if you heard this just as often too? “On the night Christ was betrayed he turned to his disciples and said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

We don’t say that often in service. Not in so many words. But I think we try to say it in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup. It’s no coincidence Christ said these things on the night of his supper, but we sometimes forget the say the words.

Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, The Easter Vigil, Easter Sunday. They’re a story of love that was rejected and buried. Yet, it was a love, the love of God, the love of Jesus Christ, that is too strong to stay buried in the tomb.

This year, let’s not forget. Between this Maundy Thursday and the one next year, let’s not forget what the mandate is. It’s so simple, and yet it demands our whole lives and our whole attentions. But here in the church, we can give Christ nothing less. Tonight, as we eat this bread and drink this cup, as simple as it seems on the outside, know that we are choosing no less than to feast upon Christ’s love for us, and to bring that feast out to others. If every Christian would do that, no one would ever have to ask us who we follow. By our love, they would already know. Amen.

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