(Written on Thursday March 28, 2013)
For those of us in the so-called “Mainline” Christian faith, today we observe Maundy Thursday. This is the day we remember Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, its from this event that comes the sacrament of Holy Communion. But also on this day Jesus is said to have washed his disciples’ feet, showing and displaying the repeated gospel theme of “the first will be last and the last will be first,” “the first among all is the servant among all,” and other such phrases. The hymn “Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us With Your Love” comes to mind when thinking of this image.
The designated gospel passage for the day is John 13:1-17, 31b-35. The last two verses of this passage stand out, especially within a theological focus on the love for the neighbor. The NRSV translation of verses 34 and 35 reads with Jesus speaking: “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.”
For some then, this becomes the basic call of what it means to be a disciple, to love. The challenge is that love is not simple. Love is indeed hard, a constant challenge. Jesus says to “love one another.” He doesn’t say just love each other here, or just love all those people who like you and agree with you, but he says “love one another.” To what extent does God’s love go? Is there a limit to whom to share and show love to? I would argue that there is not. Which is what makes it so hard. We are called to love those whom we can never agree with, those whom we will never see eye to eye with and get along with, and we need to show them love, just like we show love for our closest family and friends.
In this sense then Maundy Thursday is a reminder of the great complexity but also inclusivity of God’s love. God’s love seen through the life, death, and resurrection is not just for one person or people. It’s God’s love manifest for all of creation. Therefore, there is the hope and indeed calling to show love to one another, no matter if we share the same ideas about God or not. It’s not easy, and perhaps there is nothing harder then showing love to an enemy or to the person you are passively aggressively trying to avoid having to talk to, etc.
Maundy Thursday’s scene of the last supper and foot washing then moves to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prays, the disciples fall asleep (depending on what gospel you read with different states of sleep), and ultimately Jesus is betrayed by Judas and handed over to be tried and ultimately sentenced to death and crucified the next day. It’s hard to see love and redemption in such gruesomeness and injustice, but Jesus goes through it. Where I think the love is in this, is that its not through death alone that we see Jesus’ love and are saved because of it. It’s because of Jesus’ life and love equally that we are shown how to love, and are redeemed because of that very love. It’s because of Jesus’ resurrection that we are redeemed, reconciled, and able to truly have hope. God through Christ has done the work for redemption, once and for all. There is nothing for us to do about this love to earn it, but to just respond in love and to serve because of the uncontrollable thanks and joy we have for that love. This is why we serve our neighbor. This is why we love those whom we cannot ever hope to agree with. Because its the only thing we can do being aware of the great complexity and far-reaching and inclusive love of God.
For those of you who observe Maundy Thursday, what do you think about it? What strikes you as you observe and worship on this day?