I used to think that Easter was just about the death and resurrection of Christ; Good Friday and Easter Sunday respectively… But, then I found Maundy Thursday. For most, this is our understanding of the Easter season, Jesus dies and then comes back. Yet, it’s not the whole story. There’s something that happens before… a commandment
The most literal translation of Maundy, when traced back to it’s Latin roots. Before the events we know as Easter can happen, Jesus gathers His disciples in secret, shares a meal with them, and then Provides one simple instruction: “Love as I have loved.”
There are two distinct actions that occur on this night, the first is Jesus washing the feet of His disciples, demonstrating the full extent of His love and challenging the them to continue spreading that love after He is gone. Though, they wouldn’t understand that yet. They ask “Lord, what are you doing? Who are we that you would wash our feet? Surely, we should be the ones washing yours!” To which Jesus responds, “Just wait, you don’t understand now, but soon all will be clear.”
The second is the celebration of communion, which is still one of the most practiced Christian traditions. We all know the story. Jesus gathers His disciples and breaks bread for the last time, though this time is different. He leaves them with a command.
What strikes me as so humbling in these actions is not what Jesus does, but who He includes in them. He washes the feet of all of His disciples. He washes the feet of the one who He called out of the boat, but began sink because of their doubt. He washes the feet of the one who will soon deny ever knowing Him. Jesus even washes the feet of the man who He knows will sell Him out to the authorities; ultimately the man responsible for His death. Jesus already knows what they have done and are going to do. Yet, He makes a conscious choice to include them in these actions.
They are the weakest of the weak, the greediest of the greedy, and those with the most unstable faith in who Jesus is. But, they are also us.
Who among us wouldn’t deny knowing a dead man, while knowing that answering “Yes” may land us in prison for the rest of our lives? Who wouldn’t consider taking a substantial bribe to have a friend get arrested? Who here wouldn’t consider, even for a second that Jesus wasn’t who He said He was? It’s a sobering thought.
And yet, Jesus calls after us, saying “You are the ones I want! You may be broken, you may be blemished, you may be barley hanging on, but you are perfect! Let me serve you.” This is the command Jesus leaves us with, “love as I have loved.”
It reminds me of the prodigal son when the father sees his lost son: “Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!”
This is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, though we fall short again and again, though we break our promises in the same breaths we make them. God calls us saying, let me serve you. Through their interactions with the Jesus, the disciples have gotten a glimpse of it, clearer than many of us may ever see. And yet, they still walk the line between lost and found; between faith and doubt.
“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.”
And before supper ends the disciples are already backsliding. This is our story.
The harsh reality is that most of us come to church, we read of miraculous stories of unrelenting love, we sing songs of great joy and triumph, we challenge each other to live more fulfilling lives by following Jesus; and yet even before we leave, we are backsliding.
There is a brokenness that is so deeply ingrained into us, that we often hardly notice it. Some attribute it to Western Culture, others to consumerism, other say that it goes back to the Genesis poem of Adam & Eve’s initial sin. But, we feel it; the tension tugging on us, the world on one side and Jesus on the other; a constant battle for our attention and our devotion.
Maybe this is what Jesus means when He says:
“If anyone would come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
The command that Jesus leaves us with is a call to choose love daily and to reject all the vain things that compete for our attention. It’s this love that has transformed lives for centuries. It is this love that tells us to love our enemies and pray those who persecute us. Maybe this is why Jesus’ two greatest commandments both begin with love, because love always wins.
In the moment we may not understand how everything fits together, how love is working or if love is even working. But, we wait on baited breath in hope. I can’t imagine the feelings betrayal, confusion, and grief that consumes the disciples over the next 24 hours. How can love win, when it’s hanging on a cross? But “Jesus answered them,
“You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”