We think of Maundy Thursday as the night during Holy Week when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper—when he shared the bread and the wine, and said, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.”
And if that is the main emphasis, then of course the word Maundy—which is used only in reference to this holy day—must have something to do with the sacrament most of us call Holy Communion.
But it doesn’t. The word Maundy is an old English corruption of the Latin word mandatum, which means commandment.
Though our kneejerk reaction was to think of this mandatum as our Lord’s commandment to “do this in remembrance of me”—namely, to eat the bread and drink the wine, in fact, the mandatum we’re referring to is what is called the New Commandment—a commandment Jesus gave on the Thursday night before he died and recorded in the only Gospel that doesn’t actually talk about the bread and the wine of the Last Supper.
I’m talking, of course, about the Gospel of John, in which Jesus says, “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.”
The very name for the holiday we observe, therefore, is an acknowledgment that our identity as Christians is based on love. And the love that Jesus talks about is a love that is shown in our willingness to serve—not in ways that make us look good, but in humility and anonymity.
So as we gather round the table tonight, we do so not just as those who are called to remember, but also as those who are called to love. And who find in that calling the true source of our identity. There’s a hymn we like to sing to our Lord that says, “Loving puts us on our knees, showing our faith by our deeds, serving the neighbors we have from you.” Christian love, therefore, is a love that serves.
So come to the table and realize your calling. Remember, yes. But also love. Tonight you are not a teacher or a factory worker or a nurse or a pastor. You’re not employed or unemployed or retired. You’re not a parent or a spouse, a sibling or a significant other. You are a follower of Christ, and your identity comes from God and is made known to others not by your title, not by your salary, not by what you possess, not by whom you’re in a relationship with, but by your love.
“I give you a new commandment,” Jesus said, “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.” Let us in love, therefore, offer ourselves and our gifts to God in love, because God first loved us.
—©2018 Sam L. Greening, Jr.