Hosannas rang from the rafters last Sunday, ushering in one of the most important holidays of the Christian calendar. Church choirs held final rehearsals for the sorrowful anthems they’ll share during tomorrow’s Good Friday services. Saturday may include one last practice of the gloriously boisterous hymns announcing, Hallelujah! He’s alive! Oops! We missed one day of the Passion Week calendar–Thursday. If you’re not involved in a liturgical-style church celebration, you may be asking, What’s up with Maundy Thursday?
Maundy comes from the Latin word, mandatum, meaning commandment or mandate. During the final, extraordinary meal the disciples ate with Jesus, the Lord gave them a new commandment.
“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.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)
Perhaps, like me, you read this and wondered what’s new about that? Hadn’t Jesus been talking about love throughout His ministry? Why, now that the Lord’s got this one last shot at teaching his original twelve disciples, does He tell them this is a new commandment?
I flipped back to review what Jesus said to the Pharisees who questioned Him about which of the many laws He considered the most important. Surely, I’d find Jesus had already given them this commandment.
“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:35-40 NIV)
While it’s not difficult to imagine how we might show love to our neighbor, loving the invisible, all-powerful, almighty God is another matter. How can we love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind?
Jesus answered that during this last supper.
“If you love me, keep my commands. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.” (John 14:15,21 NIV)
A close study of the New testament will reveal 684 commands Jesus gave as he taught His followers. While some folks want to believe that Jesus ushered in a whole new set of rules and regulations, relegating those contained in the Old Testament to dusty museum shelves, one of Jesus’ earliest sermons to the thousands on a hillside proclaimed otherwise.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:17-19 NIV)
Essential Commands of Jesus
According to the above, the commandments of Jesus can be wrapped up in the following:
- Love God by obeying His commands
- Love our neighbor as ourselves.
And, the new commandment Jesus gave His disciples?
- Love one another.
The Lord sat at the table for one last meal together. As He observed the men he’d spent so much time with over the past three years, a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. (Lk 22:24 NIV) It’s not hard to imagine Jesus had some memories of rowdy conflict between the strong characters on His team. Perhaps, Jesus knew the disciples needed to be told He wanted them to love one another, not just their neighbors.
Let’s be honest. All of us have served on church committees with folks who are a bit difficult to work with, right? How about the team leader in your ministry who directs the tasks with a strong hand? Or, even the Christian friend you’ve known for decades but is so negative that you wonder at times why you’re still friends? I believe these are the people Jesus had in mind when he gave this new commandment Maundy Thursday, or should I say Commandment Thursday.
Christians must love one another. According to Jesus, it’s the only true witness that identifies us as His disciples. If you‘re finding a Christian in your sphere hard to love, ask God to help you. I’ve had times when I asked God to pour His love for the difficult person through me. Amazingly, not only did God do just that, but His extraordinary love touched me, too. Soon, I eagerly waited for this same person to join our table during gatherings.
Jesus put actions to His words, showing the disciples what He meant by loving one another. They witnessed their Lord serve each man, insisting they allow the ministration. Would any of them ever forget that Jesus washed their feet? How difficult would it have been to sit quietly and let Jesus do the menial work?
I’m not suggesting that you knock on the door of the most cantankerous Christian you know with a basin and cloth in hand. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet because the lowliest of servants did that in those days. Is there a task you might offer to do for your ornery Christian sibling-in-the-Lord? You might be surprised how your kindness might soften those rough edges.
The churches who celebrate Maundy Thursday include the sharing of the cup and broken bread. They recognize Jesus initiated the sacrament of the Eucharist or Holy Communion that last Passover meal with His twelve disciples. Jesus made it clear, the event wouldn’t be a one-time deal.
Jesus lifted the cup and gave thanks. As the Lord shared it with the assembled men, he spoke of the wine as a representation of his blood, poured out for them as a symbol of the new covenant. The unusual words continued.
“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk 22:19 NIV)
A short time after Jesus uttered these mysterious words, the Twelve watched as soldiers arrested their Lord. They lived through the pain of His trial and agonizing death on a criminal’s cross. What hollowness must have gripped their hearts as despair flooded their souls all day Saturday. Their Messiah, the hope of Israel, lay dead in the tomb.
In Remembrance of Him
Resurrection Sunday changed everything! Jesus had risen just as He said. What else had the Lord said during that last supper?
Not blessed with cell phones to play back all that Jesus told them in the Upper Room, I imagined the disciples digging every morsel out of the memories of the group as they met.
Now, the words spoken over the cup and the broken bread made sense. They would remember Him whenever they participated in the meal. But, that’s not all.
Jesus demonstrated how to serve. None would forget His hands rinsing their feet. The Master had followed His action with a new commandment: Love one another just as He had loved them. Truly, as often as they served, they’d do it in remembrance of Him.
Later, Christians named this important day in the life of the church, Maundy Thursday, sharing what many call the Lord’s Supper—a sip from the cup and a piece of broken bread. While the celebration of Holy Communion is an essential part in our Christian life, what about the new commandment? Do we love one another?
Today is Maundy Thursday. How about finding one person to demonstrate the new commandment in some tangible way. It need not be costly. For many, even a smile is a gift.
If you’re a teen, how about offering to do the supper dishes? Just tell your parents you’re obeying the new commandment, found in the Gospel of John, Chapter Thirteen. (they might go look it up.)
Now, you’ll never have to ask, what’s up with Maundy Thursday? You’ll be able to tell someone else next year–April 13, 2017.