You may be interested to know that the most common question I get asked during Holy Week is about this night, the Thursday before Easter. People get Palm Sunday; they get Good Friday; they get Easter Sunday, but tonight, Maundy Thursday, is unclear. And the one thing people want to know the most, is this: what does “Maundy” mean?
It’s a very good question. Who uses the term “maundy” in their daily life anyway? For those on the outside of the church, and even for those of us inside, it might just sound like a church service where we know we should want to go to it, but we have no idea why.
But before I talk about what the word “maundy” means and its implications on our lives today, I want to go back to that story we read from the gospel of John. In it, Jesus has gone to Jerusalem for the Passover. He’s gathered His twelve disciples there at the table. He knows what is going to happen. He knows that by the end of the night one of them will betray Him to the authorities. One will deny Him three times. And all of them will leave Him alone in His hour of greatest pain.
The Different Message of Jesus
And yet, there He is. Breaking the bread and pouring the cup. Eating with them. Blessing them. Getting down on His knees and washing their feet, showing them His love and grace and compassion, in a time when we might have better understood His wrath or anger.
In a world where we are often surrounded by messages of retaliation, or vengeance, or an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth cries for justice, it’s a different message. Jesus had done nothing wrong. He’d healed the sick, raised the dead, and freed the captives. He’d brought hope and life to those who needed it the most.
And in the end, He knew that He was not about to be thanked. He was about to be killed. Because in the end, the goodness, and the kindness, and the compassion He had brought were more of a threat to the Roman authorities, and clergy of His day, than any weapon or any army. He so radically upset the status quo that they decided their only choice was to kill Him.
Jesus with the Disciples
The night before Jesus was crucified, He wasn’t running away. He wasn’t preparing for a battle. He wasn’t plotting His revenge. Instead He was with the ones He loved most. The ones who loved Him, but who weren’t perfect. The ones who knew who He was, and what He had done, and who would be the witnesses to His life after He was gone.
And that’s where that word “maundy” comes in. What do you do if you’re Jesus? What do you do if you know you are not going to be around much longer, and you have to tell the people you love the most, the ones who followed you, the ones who sometimes make big mistakes, how to keep moving in the right direction after you’re gone?
The word “maundy” comes from a Latin word: mandatum. And mandatum means “mandate” or a “commandment.” Therefore, when we talk about “Maundy Thursday”, we’re talking about “mandate Thursday.” We’re talking about the night that Christ told His disciples EXACTLEY what He expected of them.
And if you read a book or watch a movie about a leader who has gone through a similar situation, you might think that leader right about now would be saying something like “avenge my death”, or “make sure there’s payback”, or “don’t let them get away with this…strike back”. But the Jesus story isn’t like any other story. This is a story that turns everything on its head. The mandate, the mandatory thing Jesus tells us to do in this passage is this: “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.”
It’s not my job to rename Christian holy days. But if it were, I might change the name of Maundy Thursday. I might change it from this word that none of us really know anymore to something we would all understand. Something like “Love One Another Thursday”, or “The Last Thing Christ Wanted Us to Know Thursday” or something similar.
A Message We All Desperately Need
Friends, this is a message we Christians all need to hear. We don’t need to hide it behind fancy terms. We don’t need to just check this night off as another night in holy week. We need to allow this “mandate” to shape who we are. By Christ’s love genuinely lived amongst us, everyone will know that we are Christ’s disciples.
The world wouldn’t know us as Christ’s disciples by the fact we put a Christian fish sticker on our car. The world wouldn’t know us as Christ’s disciples because we wear a cross around our necks. The world wouldn’t know us as Christ’s disciples by voting for this or against that. We would just be known by the one thing Christ wanted us to be known for: by how we love.
This year, let’s not forget. Between this Maundy Thursday and the one next year, let’s not forget what the mandate is. It’s so simple, and yet it demands our whole lives and our whole attentions. But the true disciple of Jesus should not give Christ nothing less. Tonight as we eat this bread and drink this cup, as simple as it seems on the outside, know that we are choosing no less than to feast upon Christ’s love for us, and to bring that feast out to others. If every Christian would do that, no one would ever have to ask us who we follow. By our love, by following the example of our Lord, they would already know. Amen.
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Meditation Notes (Maundy Thursday ~ April 18, 2019)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor