Today is “Maundy Thursday” but most of us have no idea of this day or its meaning; we normally associate it with other religious traditions. The week of Easter, if it has any religious significance is normally associated with Resurrection Sunday; the “good news” part of the Gospel. That’s when death and despair is beaten, that’s when we can rejoice, that’s when we finally see that this story has a fantastic and victorious ending. But most of the demands of discipleship are more closely aligned with what happens on Maundy Thursday (or “Holy Thursday”) because that is the day when nobody but Jesus actually knew about what would eventually happen on Sunday.
Thursday is the day when they went to the Upper Room to enjoy the Last Supper that Jesus said he was so looking forward to. Thursday is the day when Jesus instituted the remembrance celebration that we today call Communion. After the meal, knowing that this was it, that this was the end of his personal ministry to the Twelve, and more significantly, knowing that one of his closest associates was about to betray him, he decided to wash their dusty, sweaty feet!
When Jesus finished the washing He sat down and gave them an instruction. That’s where the “Maundy” comes in! It’s the first word of the Latin phrase quoted in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another, as I have loved you”. The first word of that phrase is the Latin mendicare a verb which means, “I beg you”. The noun form of the word is a small basket that was held out by beggars in the street! Maundy Thursday is a reminder that Jesus is begging us to respond like Him; love like He loves!
I just left one of the most poignant chapel services that I have ever attended. With classical worship, the recitation of the Apostles’ Creed and ministry by my friend, Byron Klaus the student body of Evangel University stood in awe as we took part in the very Communion that was instituted by Jesus on Maundy Thursday. The thought that Jesus is “begging” me to love others like He loved us; that we should learn to wash the dirty feet of others, even those who will stab us in the back and betray us…this was a humbling experience. Maundy Thursday is an appeal to a form of discipleship that serves the needs of others!
I’m looking forward to Resurrection Sunday because I know that’s how it all ends. But as my friend Byron reminded us during the chapel, I’m thinking that we shouldn’t rush through the significance of this day. In fact, this is the day that reminds us that discipleship is messy. It takes place in the trenches where we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, we don’t understand the vacillating loyalties of the masses, we sometimes don’t even know who we can trust and who might stab us in the back…
Maundy Thursday is a call to Discipleship! It is an appeal to love those who can’t love back, to be kind to those who despitefully use us, to care for the poor and the marginalized, to protect those who don’t have the power from being exploited by those who do. Most of the time, Resurrection Sunday is FAR off, we don’t see the results, we don’t know if our labor was worth it, we are living in the trenches. We’re living in the spirit of Maundy Thursday!