The Point Most Often Missed on Maundy Thursday

Today is what many followers of Christ refer to as Maundy Thursday. Have you ever wondered what Maundy actually means. You would be stunned to find out. I know I was. Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum from which we get the word mandate. In the Latin Vulgate translation of the scriptures, after Jesus washes the feet of the disciples it says, novum mandatum, a “new mandate” or “new command” do I give you. That command was that we are to serve one another and love one another as Jesus has served and loved us. Maundy Thursday was named as a reminder to all followers of Jesus that we are to serve and love one another just as He did. Somewhere along the way we have completely forgotten that aspect of being Christ followers, at least as it relates to Maundy Thursday.

With the expection of the ritual washing of feet performed by the Pope each year on this date, you rarely if ever hear of foot washing as an act of service for others. I have had the privilege of being on both the receiving and the giving ends of foot washings and can tell you that it is humbling from both directions. But it is also incredibly freeing. To serve and allow yourself to be humbly served is an amazing experience.

When I look at our contemporary methods of holding communion services I have often wondered why we simplified it down to a piece of bread and some juice when it was originally a full blown meal. I sometimes also wonder why we have simplified it by eliminating the foot washing. This may be the only instance in all the history of the church in which we simplified something instead of complicating it. We would have been better off to have left it in it’s original form.

Every year churches around the world with commemorate the Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples. They will have a simplified communion service that will point them to the coming crucifixion and the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf. In many cases churches will have a Seder Meal, a Christian interpretation of the Passover, focusing on Jesus as the unblemished lamb that was slain. We will rightly look to the suffering savior and the incredible and unique way in which he served us.

Yet in spite of the name Maundy Thursday and the clear example that Jesus gave as a servant, and his New Mandate that we serve on another and love one another as he has demonstrated, I rarely hear us being called to that outward focus on this day. For some reason we have taken this event that Jesus intended to be used to direct us to the serving of others and we have truncated it into be about how he has served us. Yes it is about how he has served us by his life, teaching, foot washing, serving the meal, and eventually going to the cross. But it must not stop there. He said that he has given us, his followers, and example to in fact follow. We are to look to Jesus as the one who so sacrificially served us and we are to in turn do likewise for others. The day was given the name, New Mandate in order to remind us of that crucial truth. Maybe if we still had to learn Latin we would remember that. But I suspect that in our self-centered way we would still find a way around the New Mandate to serve on another. After all the first disciples did just that at the Last Supper. Jesus rebuked them because none of them were willing to serve one another. Not only would none of them wash the feet of the others. No one so much as got water for them to wash their own feet. Each one sat around waiting for the other to be the servant. So Jesus became the servant and showed them a better way.

Maundy Thursday is the day of the New Mandate, the New Command that Jesus gave. Love one another as I have loved you. Serve one another in the same way that you have seen me, the Master, serve you. In this way you will glorify my Father in Heaven. It is not just about remembering a last meal. Today is about remembering the last commands given us by the Lord.