|Bread and Wine, painting by Kjersti Timenes 2003|
Today we remember what Jesus did and said at that meal, before he was betrayed and arrested.
Maundy Thursday is about doing what Jesus said, imitating what Jesus did. “Maundy” is from “mandatum’ or “command”. It refers to the mandates given by Jesus at the Last Supper. What were these?
- to share bread and wine in remembrance of him
- to wash one another’s feet
- to love one another.
This is how this command is passed on in one of the earliest books of the New Testament:
"...the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me'. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."
(1 Corinthians 11: 23-26, NRSV)
2. To wash one another’s feet
Foot washing was done only by the lowest slave. But at that last supper Jesus washed his disciples feet. Judas was included, though he was about to betray Jesus. Peter was included, though at first he refused to allow Jesus to wash his feet and a few hours later he denied knowing Jesus.
Jesus’ action was a parable of his incarnation and death. Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer clothes, just as he’d set aside his equality with God. Then, like a slave, he wrapped a towel round his waist, just as he’d clothed himself in our humanity. He poured water into a bowl, bent down to wash feet, just as he would pour out his life for us on the cross.
Many churches do a foot-washing ritual today. It’s a moving experience, but not essential. What Jesus asks is that we share his attitude, imitate his loving humble service, performed down in the dirt, smelly feet and all. Imitating Christ is not done by trying harder to be like him. We can only imitate Christ as we allow his life to grow in us – not just us as individuals, but as a community of his followers. (See 3. below)
(For a beautiful Maundy Thursday poem based on the foot washing see the post 'Basin and Towel'.)
3. To love one another
It was after Judas left the supper that Jesus gave this mandate to his friends:
"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
(John 13: 34-35, NRSV)
This is additional to the command to love God and neighbour. It's about love within the community of believers in Christ. We have a poor record of loving one another within the church. Our only hope of doing this is by receiving Jesus' love through his Spirit, so we can practice sharing it the way he shared it. First, Jesus must wash us, like little children who’ve been playing in mud. Then we can come to 'the Lord's Supper' to be fed by him. Then we can wash the feet of others, by serving without concern for status.
“If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
(John 13:17 NRSV)
This post is 44th in a daily series of Lenten (including Holy Week) reflections based on a Bible reading from the Common Worship Lectionary of the Church of England. This one is based on 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26 and John 13: 1-17, 31b - 35.