Do you recoil at the thought of being commanded to do something? Maybe you are more compliant than I am, but I don’t really like receiving commands. And yet, as Christians we are commanded to follow Jesus. Today is Maundy Thursday when we remember the foot-washing and Last Supper. The Latin word "mandatum" gives us the English word mandatory. During this meal, Jesus gave his followers a command which carries weight for us today.
“Love one another as I have loved you.”
It’s such a simple, beautiful idea. We should love one another just as Jesus loved us. This should be our primary identifier to the world. Our love for one another should be readily apparent to all people. However, we have a problem in carrying out this command. In most churches, it does not take long to see strife and division instead of love. If nothing else, the number and variety of churches points to the division within the church of Christ around the world. It’s easy to see the disobedience to the command here, but Maundy Thursday presents an opportunity for unity.
The rite of foot-washing and communion will bring many Christians together in remembrance today. Foot-washing should show us the humbleness of our Savior as He prepared to die. As His disciples worried about things like tradition, places of honor, and filling their stomachs with food, He took the place of a servant and washed their feet.
I have participated in foot-washing services, and although some people mock the act as pure religious symbolism, I know the ceremony can have a properly humiliating effect for all participants. It has a way of showing how silly many other things are that we do. Have you tried washing other adults’ feet? It isn’t comfortable, and it isn’t easy.
Why would this be important to remember today?
Serving others is hard. Love is hard. Many people have written about the significance of agape love. It is no coincidence John used it to convey Jesus’ message in John 13:34. It’s the same love John uses in 15:12-17 where he remembers Jesus’ description of His coming death- “No greater love has a man than to lay down his life for his friends.” This love is self-sacrificial and giving.
In the context of what Jesus was doing, one author (Strachan) notes that,
“this divine self-consciousness of Jesus, confronted by the final assault of the devil directed through his instrument Judas, manifested itself not in a sovereign display of omnipotence, but in an amazing act of self-humiliation.”
Jesus did not use his power and authority to show who He was, He showed it through humility. Love works itself out through humility. If we want to be known, we must be known through our humble acts of love. This is the message of Maundy Thursday.
In some Christian groups today is also known as a day of Mystery. We celebrate while also knowing that the cross is coming, in this way we are united with Christ. The symbols and practices of our faith, like taking communion, washing feet, or changing the symbols of cloth from celebration to black remind us to participate in the life of Christ. Again, our externals bring us to the mysteries of faith. We are invited to think and feel as Christ when He was betrayed and about to be humiliated and killed. The mystery comes in our union with Him.
As we approach Easter, let’s be united in our love. We will be knowingly humiliated, scorned, and rejected. In this death of self, let us rise again in Christ. Self-sacrificial love leads us into new life together. -Christopher