This day on our Journey to Resurrection Sunday for me personally is the most moving and instructive. While preparing for this devotion, I found myself perusing Dennis Bratcher’s very helpful website at the Christian Resource Institute, (www.crivoice.org). As I was reading his article on Maundy Thursday, I realized it said everything I wanted to say. (Moreover, he does a better job at it than me!)
So today’s devotional will be excerpted and adapted from “The Days of Holy Week” by Dennis Bratcher, with a few of my own thoughts added in as well.
During the days leading up to Holy Week, Jesus and His disciples had steadily journeyed from Galilee toward Jerusalem. On the sunlight hillsides of Galilee, Jesus was popular, the crowds were friendly and the future was bright. Even his entry into Jerusalem had been marked by a joyous welcome. But in Jerusalem there was a growing darkness as the crowds began to draw back from the man who spoke of commitment and servanthood. There was an ominous tone in the murmuring of the Sadducees and Pharisees who were threatened by the new future Jesus proclaimed.
Even as Jesus and his disciples came together to share their final meal, they already stood in the shadow of the cross. It was later that night, after the meal, as Jesus and His disciples were praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, that Jesus was arrested and taken to the house of Caiaphas the High Priest. On Friday He would die.
The sharing of the Eucharist, our sacrament of thanksgiving, on Maundy Thursday is the means by which most Christians observe this day. There is a great variety in exactly how the service is conducted. However it is celebrated, the Eucharist of Maundy Thursday is especially tied to the theme of remembering. As Jesus and his disciples followed the instructions in the Torah to remember God’s acts of deliverance in their history as they shared the Passover meal together, so Jesus calls us to remember the new act of deliverance in our history that unfolds on these last days of Holy week.
The term Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum (from which we get our English word mandate), from a verb that means “to give,” “to entrust,” or “to order.” The term is usually translated “commandment,” from John’s account of this Thursday night. According to the Fourth Gospel, as Jesus and the Disciples were eating their final meal together before Jesus’ arrest, he washed the disciples’ feet to illustrate humility and the spirit of servanthood. After they had finished the meal, as they walked into the night toward Gethsemane, Jesus taught his disciples the “new” commandment that serves as our scripture verse for today. (John 13:34-35)
The Last Supper was a Passover seder, the annual festival God ordered Israel to keep; designed to keep the story of their deliverance from the bondage of Egypt alive in their hearts. As the Jews celebrate the seder, they are instructed to observe Passover as though THEY WERE THERE that night themselves. The ancient rabbis taught that in every generation a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had come out of Egypt, as it is said: “You shall tell your child on that day, it is because of what the Lord did for me when I left Egypt.”
NORMAL TIME collapses into SACRED TIME – and the Jews are brought back to the land of Goshen on that night just as we are brought to the foot of the cross when we celebrate Communion. At the Eucharist, Christ’s real presence collapses normal time into sacred time, and we are brought back to the events of the upper room in a spiritually dynamic way as we remember the sacrifice.
At that holy table, Jesus shares a new call to love.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, you also ought to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
As John Piper has observed, first the command is new because it is a command to LIVE OUT the love of Jesus. Second, the command is new because it is a command to LIVE ON the love of Jesus. The words “as I have loved you” contain a pattern for our love for each other, and they contain a power for our love for each other. The command from God for us to love one another had never before been tied to the incredible example Christ Himself was about to deliver. He was saying, “Do you want to see how to love well? Then watch this!” True love is utterly selfless. This is agape in action.
As we remember the events of this day …
— the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist
— the loneliness of Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane
— the abandonment of Jesus by His disciples
— His trial before the High Priest
Let us remember all of these in the light of His new commandment.
Sacrifice is how we LIVE OUT the love of Jesus. And the level of sacrifice to which we are called is only made possible when we LIVE ON the love of Jesus. For as we serve those around us – our families, our friends, our congregations – each of us sees that the power to love them in THIS MANNER does not lie within us. It only lies within Him.
We can only LIVE OUT the command He gave us if He is also LIVING IN us, and that bears remembering daily.