We are journeying with Jesus through Holy Week, the most sacred time of the Christian Year. When we think about Holy Week, we are familiar with Good Friday and certainly Easter; but Maundy Thursday? On this day the church remembers the last evening that Jesus shared with his disciples in the upper room before his arrest and crucifixion. The experiences in the upper room were highly significant because this was the last teaching, modeling, and instruction Jesus gave before facing the cross.
Maundy Thursday, then, marks three important events in Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples: the washing of the disciples’ feet; the instituting of the Lord’s Supper; and, the giving of a “new” commandment to love one another. Let’s briefly unpack these three impactful words and actions from Jesus.
For Jesus, this was all about and for love, God’s love. On that fateful night, having loved his disciples for the past three years, Jesus showed them the full extent of his love by taking the posture of a servant and washing each and every one of the disciples’ feet, including Judas. After demonstrating for them a totally humble service, Jesus said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15). This was an incredible act of love. We need to rightly observe that Jesus Christ loves me just as I am, and not as I should be. He loves me even with my dirty stinky feet, my herky-jerky commitment to him, and my pre-meditated sin.
Not only did Jesus wash the disciples’ feet, but he lifted the cup of wine and boldly asserted: “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took the 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.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:17-20). Because of these words of Jesus, the church everywhere throughout the world, for two millennia, have practiced this communion, this supper so that we might have the redemptive events of Jesus pressed firmly into both our minds and our hearts by means of the visceral and common elements of bread and wine. We are to not just know about Jesus, but are to experience being united with him.
Having washed the disciples’ feet, and proclaimed to them the meaning of his impending death, Jesus gave them a clear commandment: Love one another, using the same model he had showed them (John 13:34-35). We represent Christ on this earth when we carefully, diligently, and persistently practice love. Although love was by no means a new concept for the disciples, in the form and teaching of Jesus love was shown with four distinctions: Jesus as the new model of love; a new motive of love, that Christ first loved me; a new motivator to help us love, the Holy Spirit; and, a new mission, the evangelization of the world using the power of Christ’s love to accomplish it.
So, you see, Maundy Thursday is a highly significant day on the Church Calendar – one which deserves to be observed, and an opportunity to remember the important words and actions of Jesus on our behalf. Through Jesus Christ we are to live always in love, modeling our life and church ministry after him. In Christ we are to allow love to characterize our life together as we proclaim God’s love in preaching and sacrament. A watching world will only take notice and desire to be a part of our fellowship if we are deeply and profoundly centered in the love of God in Christ. This is the reality that Maundy Thursday brings to us.