A New Commandment
Preached from the Good Shepherd pulpit on Maundy Thursday, 2013:
Maundy. It comes from the Latin word, “mandatum,” a command or order, and from there it became “maunde” in Middle English, to “Royal Maundy” and to what we now know as “Maundy Thursday.” But I’m not here to offer a class in the etymology of ecclesiastical and liturgical verbiage. I’m here to share my thoughts and what is in my heart about this night, a night that began the transformation of a band of believers, of disciples, into Christians.
This is the evening of mandates that took everyone who followed Jesus one step closer to the astounding and profound act of love we know as the Crucifixion. On that night so long ago, Jesus took a sacred meal that was symbolic of the sufferings, trials and triumphs of the people of Israel and made it into something new. He took the Seder and made it a symbol of his own suffering and its power through God, his overwhelming love for God and us, to deliver us from sin and death.
It was during this meal Jesus presented two mandates to his followers.
The first is what we call the “New Commandment.” After he shocked them, particularly Peter, by kneeling down like a slave and washing their feet, he said, “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.”
The second mandate was not only an expression of love, but an expression of ministry – service to one another in Christ’s name. Jesus, the Rabbi, becomes the servant and as we have heard this evening, washes the feet of his disciples. This act was, and is, an outward and visible sign of God’s love in Christ. Peter was aghast, and wanted no part of it. Jesus said to him, “Unless I wash you, you have no share in me.”
Unless I wash you, you have no share in me.
Let me serve you, so that you might serve God and one another. I do it because I love you. You will be a member of the body of Christ if you do these things.
This right action and the New Commandment were, like everything Jesus did, revolutionary. Someone hearing this and witnessing the event would have proclaimed Jesus mad. Forget about kings? Forget about emperors? Forget the Priests, the Pharisees and Saduccees, the merchant class? Love the slave as much as the master? Treat women as equals? Forget about Rome?
Giving unconditional love is revolutionary. People were and are conditioned by social class and gender, culture and bias. Then, one just didn’t go to supper with tax collectors or deal with women who used perfumed oil and tears to wash feet; you didn’t love someone just … because.
We really do have the same issues today – not as rigid, for our barriers are breaking down. It’s first come, first serve, at the Trader Joe’s check-out line. People can sit anywhere on a bus or train. Education is mandatory in the United States and free from age 5 to 18. And, side stepping that walrus in the middle of the living room, equal pay, women in the secular world and in some faith denominations in our country, may aspire to whatever calling they wish. I have hope for the hold outs.
Yes, the barriers are coming down.
If we are so willing to break down the barriers of class and race, then we should also break down the barriers we’ve put up around our hearts and love. Simply love. Just as we are commanded to do.
We will, tonight, put a different spin on the act of servant ministry that Jesus modeled when he removed his outer garment and wrapped himself in towel and knelt down to wash dusty, muddy, feet. We will wash one another’s hands.
When we wipe away a tear, bandage a physical wound, greet one another, give assistance, offer food and drink, what do we use? We use our hands. Let our hands tonight and always be an outward sign of our willingness to live out the new commandment.
Jesus is kneeling before us, speaking to us. If you and I, all of us, wish to have a share in Jesus, we must be willing to become servant leaders, to engage in Christ-like work. We have to put ourselves after those we serve. This evening, we are not simply memorializing archaic, ancient rituals in remembrance of historical events; we are making our actions acts of love, our responses to powerful mandates, our experience, our way of connecting our corporal life to Jesus and all who followed him then and now.
We are participants in that final supper Jesus shared in the upper room. We are his friends and followers as we break the bread and share the one cup, and be servants to one another. It is, my friends, only what is being asked of us by Christ.
How can we refuse?