A New Commandment
The word “maundy” has interested me from an early age. As I’ve grown and spent time studying the life and work of Jesus, I’ve come to greatly appreciate its true meaning - more on that later. However, in my younger days, long before I understood why we call the day that Jesus sat down with His disciples to eat the Passover meal - a meal that He interrupted with “a new commandment [to] give” them, one that would inspire not only His followers for generations but also the naming of this particular day - this word caused me to react in a variety of ways, from furrowing my brow and wondering at its true meaning to laughing at the odd nature of its sound to . . . remembering my #Delco roots. [Wait, what?]
I come from a family that grew up in Delaware County (what up . . . per Darby!) that spent much time in and around the Catholic church, so we participated in a variety of Holy Week events and gatherings in my early years. When it came time for Holy Week preparations and gatherings, I can still hear my Upper Darby-bred aunts, uncles, and grandparents discussing the week’s schedule: Sunday’s sunrise service, Good Friday mass, and this thing on Thursday that kicked it all off that they called “Maundy.” Now, if you’re from Delco or have spent any time in and around that area, I bet you can hear those two words (“Maundy” and “Thursday”) spoken together just as I’m remembering them: “See y’all at the choir mass on Mawndee Thursdee! Love yehz!” Good times and great memories, y’all. Don’t forget to wash your hands with the bowl of wooder in the back.
Kidding aside, I don’t just reference my family roots for a quick laugh down Route 3. You see, Maundy Thursday is a day for remembering what happened on that last night as Jesus sat down to enjoy a delicious meal and fellowship with His innermost circle, the people He trusted, the people He did life with - those He treated as His family - before He began the final leg of His journey to the cross. Despite their bickering, their pride, their short tempers, and the rest of their shortcomings, Jesus chose to spend those last hours before entering the Garden of Gethsemane with His people. These were men who would have (and did) give up anything and everything just to be with Jesus, to show Him by their actions that they were dedicated to Him, ready to go with Him and have His back no matter where He went. They weren’t perfect in those efforts - in fact, just a few hours after gathering for that meal, one of them would betray Jesus for profit, every one of them would flee from their Best Friend’s side in His hour of greatest need, and the one who believed himself to be closest to the Lord would lose his temper and lash out on multiple occasions.
Despite those flaws, these men gave up so much because of their love for Jesus. When I think of my relatives - short tempers, bickering, a smattering of Delco accents and all - I think of people who have gone out of their way time after time to show me a similar love, a love that, while flawed and never perfect, attempts to put me and my needs first. The love that I was blessed to receive from an early age from those in my family - much like the love that the disciples showed Christ - will never accurately match the love Jesus shows us, but it does begin to reflect a key element of His immense love for us in that it reflects His humility.
The word “maundy” comes from a combination of an Old French word, mandé, and a Latin word, mandatum, which basically translates to “command.” As Jesus and His disciples gathered together to celebrate the Passover, as told to us in Matthew 26, Christ gave His disciples a new command... which, really, was just a summarization of all the commands they’d heard all their lives. John 13 gives another perspective on what took place:
“During [the Passover] supper . . . Jesus . . . rose from supper . . . laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet.
“When He had washed their feet . . . He said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than His master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
(Excerpts taken from John 13:2-5, 12-18, emphasis added)
This “Maundy Thursday” label, then, is based on the new commandment that Jesus gave, first to His disciples seated around the table with Him, then to us who would follow: do just as I have done to you. You see, Jesus decided that what His disciples needed to see the most in these last moments before everything they thought they knew was flipped on its head was an example of Christ-like humility, followed by the new commandment to go and do the same.
This year, as we celebrate this Holy Week, a week filled with reminders to worship and welcome the King as we remember what He did on Palm Sunday, to bestow upon Him thankfulness and gratitude for what Christ did on Good Friday, and to burst forth with jubilation and praise for what He did on Easter Sunday, let’s not forget the reminder of servant-hearted humility that took place on Maundy Thursday, where 12 sweaty, hungry men watched their Lord and Savior humble Himself and wash the grime and dirt from their sandal-clad feet.
Even today, let’s remember Christ’s words: “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” Our marching orders are clear: let’s go do them!