In the church we sometimes have the bad habit of using unusual words as though they’re perfectly usual, with the end result that we sound like some sort of insider club. “Intinction.” “Vestments.” “Exegesis.” “Eucharist.”
And today there’s “Maundy.” If you invited a friend to come to church for the first time on this Thursday night, their reaction was probably something like, “What is a ‘Maundy’”?
And what is a Maundy? If it sounds like Greek to you, you’re not far off; “maundy” has its roots in the Latin word “mandatum,” which means “commandment.” Not coincidentally, there is a significant commandment that shows up in the Gospel lesson for today:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
Thanks to Jesus’ threefold repetition, it’s hard to miss the point: Love one another… love one another… love one another. This is a big part of what our “Maundy” Thursday is about, this new commandment from Jesus.
“New” is a relative term; it implies a comparison, so we know there’s an “old” to go up against it. And the old commandments come from Old Testament. The original ten are laid out first in Exodus 20 and repeated in Deuteronomy 5. Here’s a summary of those commands; as you read them, keep an eye out for Jesus’ new commandment.
- No other gods.
- No graven images.
- No taking the Lord’s name in vain.
- Keep the Sabbath.
- Honor your mom and dad.
- No killing.
- No adultery.
- No stealing.
- No bearing false witness.
- No coveting your neighbor’s stuff.
Noticeably absent from this list is anything about loving one another. Those are the old, this is the new.
But there’s more in the Old Testament then just the Ten Commandments. “Love one another” may not have been chiseled on the tablets with the original ten, but it can be found elsewhere in the Bible Jesus read. Leviticus 19:18 says it in a very familiar way: “love your neighbor as yourself.” Any faithful Jew would already be familiar with that lesson. Which begs the question:
If loving one another isn’t new, then why did Jesus call this a “new” commandment?
In between the repetitions of “love one another” there is an important line that might be the something new we’re looking for: “As I have loved you” (John 13:34).
This may not be the first time God’s people are asked to love other, but it is the first time we’re asked to love others as Jesus loved us. And there is a newness in this, because Jesus had a pretty radical way of loving others.
Immediately preceding this new command is one of the most radical demonstrations of Jesus’ love: the footwashing. In the ancient near east people reclined at low tables and wore open sandals. It was customary to wash (presumably dirty) feet before a meal. It was also customary for this to be a servant’s job; Adam Hamilton says this was even considered to be beneath Jewish servants and preferably handed on to a Gentile (non-Jewish person) to take care of. No one wanted to wash feet.
But Jesus did. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” I wonder if the disciples immediately thought of their washed feet when Jesus made this new commandment.
The disciples didn’t know it then, but we know that this was just the tip of the iceburg. Soon Jesus would give his whole life in the worst kind of death. And this, too, is included in Jesus’ new commandment love for others. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you,” he continues in John 15:12. “Greater love has no one than this, that a person lay down his life for his friends” (v. 13).
The new commandment is not just to love one another; it is far more difficult than that. It is to love one another as Jesus loved us. And there is a distinction between the two.
“Loving one another” is easy. “Loving one another as Jesus loved us” is hard.
“Loving one another” is something we can do when it’s convenient. “Loving one another as Jesus loved us” is characterized by inconvenience.
“Loving one another” can be done while maintaining status. “Loving one another as Jesus loved us” requires lowering ourselves to a servant’s status.
“Loving one another” may cost us little. “Loving one another as Jesus loved us” will come at great cost.
This is what “Maundy” means to us who follow Christ: a new commandment to love others by serving them, to love others by making sacrifices – because that’s how Jesus loved us.
Not everyone in the world knows that “Maundy” derives from a Latin word, etc. etc. But really, that’s just fine. They don’t need to. What they need to know is the love of Jesus Christ. And here’s how they’ll know it:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).