Maundy Thursday, 2017
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Calling today Maundy Thursday never made much sense to me.
You hear it called “Maunday Thursday,” but it’s Maundy Thursday. So, I was always confused about that.
But, adding to my confusion, is that this is the day of Holy Week when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper.
Almost no one has a Maundy Thursday service without Holy Communion.
You know the words: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread…” (cf. 1 Corinthians 11).
Well, in Holy Week, this is the night on which Jesus was betrayed.
So, we rejoice and receive the Lamb of God’s body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins as He bids us do.
The Thursday of Holy Week is all about the institution of the Lord’s Supper, but that’s not where the Maundy part comes from.
Maundy comes from mandatum which is Latin for mandate or commandment. And even though Jesus institutes the Sacrament of the Altar and tells us to “do this,” the Lord’s Supper isn’t what puts the Maundy in Maundy Thursday.
In the Gospel lesson, Jesus says, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you…A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:12-15).
The new commandment, then, is to love one another just as Jesus has loved us.
Calling today Maundy Thursday never made much sense to me, because I didn’t know what we were supposed to be talking about.
Is today about the institution of the Lord’s Supper?
Or is today about Jesus telling us to love another?
Since we rightly emphasize both, I never knew for sure.
So, I’ll ask you—Is today about the Lord’s Supper?
Or is today about Jesus telling us to love one another?
Perhaps the right answer is a simple, “Yes.”
So, let’s look at both.
How is it that Jesus teaches us to love?
Here, He washes His disciples’ feet. Even Judas’ feet.
But does foot washing carry the same stigma today?
For example, would you want to wash my feet?
Does anyone want to volunteer?
Since they’re my feet and I know them, I can safely say that there are worse things in this world—but not many.
So, who wants to volunteer?
Think of the worst feet imaginable—cracked, oozing, scaly—is this a good mental picture?
Yellow toenails, curly hair, and—of course—the smell.
Even if those are your feet, you need to wash them, but you don’t want to!
But those are just dirty.
Could you wash the feet of the man who would betray you?
Or, as Jesus has in mind elsewhere, do you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (cf. Matthew 5:44)?
That Jesus does—and that we are—at best—reluctant shows us that we need to hear what Jesus says very carefully.
When Jesus washes His disciples’ feet and tells them and us to love one another, He isn’t saying that we should wash each other’s feet, literally. We don’t take Him like that.
He’s saying we should humble ourselves, endure with each other patiently, and serve. Not to ignore the truth for the sake of those who don’t like it—but to humble self, endure, and serve.
Hear again the familiar words defining love:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Cor. 13:4-8).
Love isn’t necessarily washing feet.
Love is saying of yourself that you’re not too good to wash stinky feet. That you’re not too beautiful to befriend an ugly person. You’re not too rich to sit next to and love the poor. You’re not so important that you can’t be bothered. You’re not so righteous that you can’t forgive those who sin against you—especially if they’re not sorry!
Love, for Jesus, is saying of Himself that though He is God, equality with God isn’t a thing to be grasped. So, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (cf. Phil. 2). That’s love.
In a manner of speaking, Jesus washed your feet with His blood.
He poured out His life for those who needed it.
So, just as Jesus has loved you, you also are to love one another.
If Maundy Thursday were to stop there, it would make sense. But we’ve also got the Institution of the Lord’s Supper as a defining moment of Holy Week.
Every single time we eat and drink Jesus’ body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins, we hear the words: “Our Lord Jesus Christ on the night when He was betrayed…” and “This do in remembrance of me.”
Remembering the night Jesus was betrayed, the night He interpreted the Passover and its meal in terms of Himself, was this night of Holy Week, Maundy Thursday.
And what the faithful eat and drink has always been important.
Eating was important for Adam and Eve in the Garden.
It was important for Moses and Aaron and the congregation of Israel while they were in Egypt, during the Plagues and the Passover, and while they were wandering in the wilderness, eating manna and drinking water from the Rock, who is Christ.
Eating was important, time and again, for Jesus and His disciples: where they ate, whether or not they could eat, and with whom they ate.
There were laws restricting what could be eaten.
There were laws restricting when you would eat.
Did you know, one of the benefits of the strict dietary guidelines of the Jews was good dental hygiene.
If they were to fast, or if they were to refrain from eating after sundown, or if they were to not eat bread with yeast in it, they had to make sure their teeth were clean lest they dislodge a morsel of bread from between their teeth and break their law.
And eating isn’t just vital to our life as humans.
It’s vital to our life as faithful Christians.
Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn. 6:53-56).
For Jesus to give us His body and blood to eat and drink, then, is the greatest act of love.
He gives it, because we need it.
He gives it, to forgive our sins. To bring us together. To strengthen our bodies and our souls. To keep us steadfast in the true faith until life everlasting.
He gives it, because He loves us. And He wants to save us all.
After years, it finally clicked for me.
Maundy Thursday is about Jesus commanding us to love one another.
Maundy Thursday is about eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.
Those aren’t that different.
Love patiently and kindly teaches the need for forgiveness and love rejoices that Jesus loves and forgives us all.
Love doesn’t envy or boast but is humble, serving our neighbor.
Love isn’t arrogant or rude but long-suffering. I love that word—it means to endure suffering without retaliating.
Love doesn’t insist on its own way; rather, it insists on The Way.
Love isn’t irritable or resentful. You can’t make God sick or tired of loving you.
And love rejoices with The Truth.
So, love one another.
Be patient. And kind. Be humble. And serve.
Suffer with those who suffer. Weep with those who weep. Rejoice with those who rejoice.
Believe and even insist that Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life—and that no one is saved apart from Him.
Rejoice that God loves, forgives, and saves you.
And remember: “Greater love has no one than this, that [Jesus] lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13).
Dear friends in Christ, when we eat and drink His body and blood, we remember and rejoice in God’s love and service to us: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (cf. Rom. 5:8).
In Jesus’ name, Amen!