In the Name…
It was in 1978 that the NFL began the experiment of having, what they called at the time, “Monday Night Football, Special Thursday Night Edition.” And that has absolutely nothing to do with Maundy Thursday.
But, it’s an easy confusion, isn’t it? I mean, who uses the word “maundy” in their daily life? It’s one of those churchy words, like “narthex” which means the church entrance or “introit” which means the opening hymn.
But, before I talk about what the word means, I want to go back to that story we read from the Gospel. In it Jesus has gone to Jerusalem for the Passover. He’s gathered his twelve disciples there at the table. And he knows what is going to happen. He knows that by the end of the night one of them will betray him to the authorities. Another will deny him three times. And all of them will leave him alone in his hour of greatest pain.
And yet, there he is. Breaking the bread and pouring the cup. Eating with them. Blessing them. Getting down on his knees and washing their feet, showing them his love and grace and compassion, at a time when we might have better understood his wrath or anger.
In a world where we are often surrounded by messages of retaliation, or vengeance, or eye for an eye cries for justice, it’s a different message. Jesus had done nothing wrong. He’d lived a life of non-violence, he’d healed the sick, raised the dead, and brought hope and life to those who needed it the most.
And in the end, he knew that he was not about to be thanked. He was about to be killed. Because in the end, the goodness, and the kindness, and the compassion he had brought were more of a threat to the authorities of his day than any weapon or army. He so radically upset the status quo that they decided their only choice was to kill him.
And, here, the night before, he wasn’t running away. He wasn’t preparing for a battle. He wasn’t plotting his revenge. Instead he was with the ones he loved most. The ones who knew who he was, and what he had done, and who would be the witnesses to his life after he was gone.
And that’s where that word “maundy” comes in. Because what do you do if you’re Jesus? What do you do if you know you are not going to be around much longer, and you have to tell the people you love the most how to keep moving after you’re gone?
The word “maundy” comes from a Latin word: mandatum. And mandatum means “mandate” or a “commandment”.
When we talk about “Maundy Thursday” we’re talking about “Mandate Thursday.” We’re talking about the night that Christ told his disciples exactly what he expected of them.
And if you read a book or watch a movie about almost anyone else, you might think the lead character right about now would be saying something like “avenge my death.”
But this isn’t any other story. This is a story that turns everything on its head. The mandate, the mandatory thing Jesus tells us to do in this passage is this: “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.”
It probably wouldn’t do well at the box office. It wouldn’t get great Nielsen ratings. The story wouldn’t soar to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list today. But it’s a story that transcends all of those things. Because it’s the beginning of a story about what happens when the world does its worst through violence, and hatred, and fear, and yet love wins anyway. It’s a story of love that was rejected and buried, and yet was still too strong to stay in the ground.
It’s not my job to rename Christian holy days, but, if it were, I might change the name of Maundy Thursday. I might change it from this word that none of us really know anymore to something we would all understand. Something like “Love One Another Thursday”, or “The Last Thing Christ Really Wanted Us to Know Thursday”.
Because this is a message we all need to hear. We don’t need to hide it behind fancy terms. We don’t need to just check it off as another night in Holy Week. We need to hear that this is how Christ said other people would know us: by how we love one another.
Maybe it would help us remember. Maybe it would help us remember not just what this night is about, but maybe it would help us remember what it means to be Christians. And maybe if we always had that reminder, if we always had that commandment to love in the front of our head, Christ’s dream for us would come true.
In the Name…