Today is what the church has historically known as Maundy Thursday. "Maundy" comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means "command." It's on this day that we reflect upon Jesus's last Passover meal with his disciples; it's the moment Jesus gave them a new command:
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34, NIV)
This moment is significant because Jesus is about to demonstrate the vision of love he has in mind as he gives his life and pours out his love, even upon his enemies. Did you catch the intent of this love in verse 35? The love between those who follow Christ is a form of witness and evidence that God's presence and power are among us.
God's love for us should be a distinguishing mark of the church. In our culture, many things conspire against our unity and love for each other. Love is hard work, and it reminds me of what the apostle Paul says to the young church in Thessalonica:
We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. 3 We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 2-3, NIV)
"Labor prompted by love." The word labor refers to the hard toiling involved in a task. The point is simple: love compels us to do the hard relational work of being God's family for the sake of the world. In an unloving world, the church's life together must demonstrate the sort of love in the person and work of Christ.
This kind of love only takes root when we realize how much God has loved us. In fact, that is the foundation of Jesus's command, "…as I have loved you." He sets the example and leads the way. Until we recognize how Jesus has loved us, our love will be severely limited and non-persuasive.
Jesus wants us to experience his liberating love so that we are free to love as he loves! What does this love look like? As the story unfolds, we find that the love of God's demonstrates his love by self-sacrifice for the sake of others, including those we would rather not love. Jesus loves the hard-to-love and calls us to do the same. We find it wonderfully stated in the following passage:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8, NIV).
Jesus did not wait until we measured up or had our lives sorted out before he granted us his grace and love. His grace and love go before us and inspire all transformation by the Spirit as we remain attentive and open to him daily.
On this Maundy Thursday, I invite you to consider and contemplate whether we truly embody this commandment of Jesus within our church family, the broader faith community, and our city towards our neighbors. On this Maundy Thursday, ask the Spirit to bring to your mind the various ways God's love has been made real in your life. Ask the Spirit to give you a fresh sense of God's liberating love and opportunities to share that love with others.
One practice Jesus leaves us is the Eucharist (communion, Lord's Supper). On the night of his betrayal, Jesus gave us this meal to remind us of his sacrificial love and our universal and equal need of his love. The Eucharist requires us to look at Jesus, look at ourselves, and look at the neighbor to contemplate the transforming love of God. If you are gathered with a few believers, family or friends, consider taking communion and praying together in the light of Jesus's last meal with this disciples.