Does anyone remember why we call today Maundy Thursday (other than our deacon Walter)? It is one of those Latin terms that is left over from when all of our liturgy was recited in Latin and only the clergy knew what any of it meant. Some churches have substituted the word “Holy” for “Maundy,” but for many of us, the term “Maundy Thursday” has managed to stick around even though its meaning has been forgotten. The word “maundy” is from the Latin word “mandate” or mandate. A mandate is a decree or a rule. We hardly ever use even this term nowadays, except in government, but it is the term we apply to the command that Jesus gave his disciples on the night before he died – the command to love one another.
Although much is made of the fact that tonight replicates the last supper Jesus shared with his friends and sets the pattern for our weekly (lately yearly) remembrance of him through the sharing of Holy Eucharist, you will notice that John’s gospel story about the Last Supper does not contain the mandate – the Maundy – to eat bread and drink wine in memory of Jesus. Instead, it is focused on the more important command: to love one another. By this – not by whether you take communion, not by whether you attend church -but by loving one another everyone will know that you are Christian.
Jesus practiced what he preached. Knowing that he would soon be suffering from betrayal, denial, unspeakable pain and eventual death, Jesus did what any one of us would do: he spent time with those he loved, eating, drinking, resting, and talking with his friends – his family. His choice not to hold a political rally or preach one last sermon is completely consistent with his character. Instead of pushing to further his own cause, he spent his last hours demonstrating his willingness to do anything he could to comfort and care for those he loved – even those who would cause his death. Because, lest we forget, the gospel writer tells us that Judas, whom Jesus knew would betray him, was also present at that dinner. Judas was part of the family.
There is hatred in our world. There is division – just as there was in Jesus’s world and at his very table. Nonetheless, it is our job to show and sow love. The various components of this evening’s service – humbling ourselves by washing and having our feet washed, making ourselves vulnerable by caring for others and allowing ourselves to be cared for – demonstrate that this can be a difficult and uncomfortable task. Yet, this is how Jesus taught his disciples what it means to be one community, one family. This is how Jesus taught us what it means to love.