What is Maundy Thursday anyway? Having grown up in a tradition that observed Good Friday, but not the prior Thursday, I’ve always been a bit unsure.
That fount of internet knowledge, Wikipedia, tells me that Maundy Thursday is variously known by different Christian fellowships as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday and Thursday of Mysteries. It commemorates the Last Supper of Christ with the apostles and services often include foot washing ceremonies.
A majority of scholars believe the word Maundy derives through Middle English and Old French from the Latin mandatum. This is the initial word of “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos,” which means “A new commandment I give unto you. That you love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34).
John 13 relates how Jesus rose during the meal and washed his disciples feet. You may recall Peter’s objections, countered with Christ’s explanations that he must submit or he had no part with Christ. Following the foot washing, Jesus became troubled and spoke of his betrayal. In response to questions regarding the betrayer’s identify, he dipped a morsel of bread and gave it to Judas. Then he dismissed him to do the despicable deed that would fulfill scripture. John 13:30 notes that Judas “immediately went out. And it was night” (ESV). It was night outside that upper room in Jerusalem, and it was night inside the soul of Judas.
Having described the circumstances and setting, John then writes:
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:31-35, ESV).
The new commandment wasn’t to wash each other’s feet, although we certainly are called to emulate Christ’s humble and self-sacrificial service to others. The new commandment was to love one another, which goes far beyond merely washing feet in an annual ceremony.
Foot washing isn’t a particularly pleasant job. And frankly, I wouldn’t want anyone washing my deformed feet in public. The humility and submission necessary for both the washer and the one whose feet are washed, however, visibly demonstrate the heart attitudes we ought to exhibit every day of the year in our love for one another.
My morning scripture reading, using the Book of Common Prayer plan at Biblegateway, impressed upon me in a new way this command to love one another as I read the high priestly prayer of Jesus, recorded in John 17 (ESV):
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said,“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name,which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”