People of God, this is Maundy Thursday. The word “Maundy” is derived from the Latin mandatum which refers to the “commandment” that our Lord gave to His disciples“to love one another.”
This short section in John’s Gospel is right in between some gigantic events in the life of Jesus, but ultimately there is truth to the idea that this short narrative is perhaps one of the most important of Jesus’ discourses.
Maundy Thursday takes us to that Last Supper our Lord had with the disciples. This Supper was marked by this profound sense that our Lord was only hours from his death at the cross.
The great traitor of history, Judas, had traded his soul for a few coins, and as Judas sat with the other disciples at that last Supper, our Lord described precisely the nature of Judas’ character. Judas was corrupted and unclean, and instead of finding in Jesus the source of his healing, Judas sought to betray the Son of Man with a kiss. Augustine once wrote that once the apostate and unclean one had departed, all that remained …continued with their cleanser.
Of course, this theme of cleansing is a very powerful one in John. Jesus is the priest, and the priest cleanses the temple, and the world of corruption. It was important that as they gathered to feast on this last supper before the New World would come after the resurrection of Jesus, that the disciples, the representatives of God, were clean in body and spirit; in motive and loyalty. Jesus did not want his representatives to betray or corrupt the Kingdom mission.
This is why when Judas departed the Son of Man was glorified. He was glorified so that He was prepared to undergo what was ahead of him in the cruel tree, because the last seed of corruption was gone. Of course the disciples were not perfect, but apart from Judas, they all remained faithful to their Lord until the end. They were cleansed by the Cleanser. And as Judas departs, as corruption departs in human flesh, Jesus now addresses His faithful and loyal servants.
We see tenderness of Jesus displayed as He addresses His disciples as Little Children. For Jesus, they were His own. They belonged in His kingdom. And because they were His He had to protect them from what was ahead. What was ahead was something only He could undergo. “Where I am going, you cannot come,” Jesus said.
But though you cannot go with me, I will give you this new commandment that you are to cling to in life, and as you continue to spread my message: that you love one another. But if know your Pentateuch well, you will note that in Leviticus 19:18 our Lord had already said that you are “to love your neighbor as yourself.” So why is this a new commandment? This is a new commandment because unlike Leviticus, here Jesus says “love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” The difference is God became flesh and literally loved His disciples in word and deed. And the disciples now have the example of God in the flesh of what love truly looks like. Yes, it is a new commandment: Love one another. But when Jesus says Do this, it is because He has already demonstrated for us what it looks like.
Love is the center of Christian discipleship. How will the world know who we are? It should not be because of our intellectual expertise, or our professional accomplishments, but rather by the love we have for one another at our tables, living rooms, workplaces, and in the place of worship.
The Christian history has only triumphed because God has loved us in His Son, and Christians have reacted to that love by loving one another. Without love there is no Christian faith; without love we are noise-makers, clanging cymbals, self-delusional religionists, but when we obey this new commandment, the world sees us and they will know that we are disciples of the Crucified King, Jesus Christ.
In The Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.