Thursday, April 13, 2017

Maundy Thursday Means What?

photo by Patrick Emerson / flickr

Maundy Thursday. Strange word. Maundy. It comes from the old Latin word which means mandate. And we all know that mandate means: this is what we have to do. 

To understand Maundy we have to go back to that time in John when the shadows came and it was dark. Holy Week, it was. And Jesus knew his time was running out. And when you know it won’t be long—he must have felt the desperation we feel from time to time. Especially we old folks. My brother-in-law who feels his old age some days says things like: “Well, this will be the last refrigerator we ever buy.” Or: “You know, this is probably the last car we’ll ever have.” And his wife looks at him like he has lost his mind. But Jesus knew it would not be long. So he met them in an Upper Room. He washed their feet. And around a table he broke bread and passed the cup. 

And this was the setting of his mandate. Maybe it was a Last Will and Testament. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also must love one another,By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This was the mandate. And almost every Maundy Thursday we read these words.

For a long time I have wanted to write a book called: “Things I Wish Jesus Had Not Said.” And one of those things was this mandate: “I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you..”

I don’t know about you—but I don’t want to love everybody. Seems like a big order. “Everybody, Lord? Not everybody.” “Everybody.” In case we have not heard he said it again: Everybody.” And this is why I wish he had not said those words and I wish there would not be this troubling word: mandate. Mandate? That’s a strong word. It means: I command you...It’s an order—like a military decree. He laid down the law. Mandate. Lord, I’ve got to love everybody? “Everybody.”

If you’re a Democrat does it mean to love Donald Trump and Melania and the whole bunch. If you’re a Republican does it mean to love Hillary Clinton—Chelsea and Bill Clinton?  What about Putin? And that monster: Assad. Or that man across the fence that is as mean as hell. Or that woman who talks about you behind your back and smiles at you like an angel. I went back to one of the churches I had served years before. While I was there one of the men would call me and cuss me out. Told me I should leave and quit trying to kill his church. He hated me and he was not exactly one of my favorite people. He kept it up. And when I’d see him there would be blood in his eyes. Ten years later I went back and walking down the hall I saw this man. And guess what? He still had that look of hated in his eyes. And I still despised him and it all came back.

Mandate. Must. Should. Command. Whew. Maybe in 2017 we can call it a mini-Mandate. Maybe Mandate with some exceptions. Like Muslims or KKK or just mean people we know. And we all have these. I wish Jesus had not said these words: “Love one another.”

But it’s there. And maybe what this mandate means is that you don’t have to have some warm squishy feeling toward everybody. Maybe feeling good toward somebody is not love. Love is not what you feel—but what you do. Look at marriage. We said: for better or for worse. And some women have added: “but not for lunch.” So you fuss. And you make up And you fuss and you make up. You disagree. And you accept her/him’s other weirdnesses. You hurt each other. But you forgive. Sometimes you love but you flat out don’t like. 

I don’t even like that. But—if it’s Mister Trump I have this mandate to do good toward him. And Hillary? The same thing. Love is an action, see. Jesus acted right about Judas even though he knew this disciple was plotting his death. And Peter—he denied the Lord—broke his heart—and later Jesus called him over after fishing and talked to him tenderly.

We’re not Jesus but we are supposed to be his disciples. And that means that even though there will always be people we don’t like—we are commanded to act as if we do. Not hypocrisy. Not feeling. But action. This love will be something we do.

And sometimes we speak truth to power. We say No to our kids. We don’t let people run over us. We don’t even have to say yes, yes. And when we sit across the table from some family member and don’t agree on nothing politically. Or religiously or anything else. And they think you are crazy and you think they are crazy. But you act out love. Remember that verse: Be ye kind. And somebody said: "Be kind wherever you go for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

You vote your conscience. You stand up for the right. Because you loved this country you act out that loved by trying to make this place all it was meant to be. But hate is not a family value. But we cannot diminish another’s personhood whether they be illegal or a President. But we stand up for the right as we see it.

That’s why we keep coming back to this Table. We eat over and over at home because we get hungry. And here knowing we still have to work on this mandate—and always will—we take the bread and we drink the cup and pray that whatever Jesus meant by love another—we’re going to keep trying. 

I always say the same words as I give an invitation to this table. “You that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins and (listen) want to be in love and in charity with your neighbors…come to the table…” And so we bring here our sins and our wants…hoping that what happened long ago in an Upper Room might just happen to us. And when the hard days come…we will remember what it means to be a disciple and we keep trying always.

Photo by Robin / flickr

(I preached this meditation at the Maundy Thursday Service at Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church, Sandy Springs, SC. Holy Week, 2017)

--Roger Lovette /

1 comment:

  1. Roger, thank you for sharing these powerful and convicting words. It is truly a hard mandate...