On Maundy Thursday, we hover on the edge of the crucifixion. But we also get a glimpse of the kingdom of God. A glimpse through John’s pen, of how the kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of the world.
We hear the story of Jesus and his disciples at table. But before that, we have Jesus washing of the feet of his companions. All of them. The one who would deny him. The one who would betray him. After he had finished, he asked the disciples: “do you know what I have done to you?”
Do you know what I have done to you? And to us he asks, “Do you know what I have done for you?” That is the question for Thursday night, Friday, and Saturday. That is the question for every day. For the saving work of Christ, what Jesus has done and does for us always, is not just about the cross. It is about birth and baptism, teaching and healing, body and blood, basin and towel, life and death.
If the concept of washing feet, and the act of eating and drinking mean anything at all, they respond to Jesus’ question – and to his command – not just to wash feet, or receive bread and wine, but to love one another as Jesus has loved us. Maundy. It comes from the Latin mandatum: “to command.” Jesus commands that we love one another as he loves us.
We can get confused about what this loving service looks like and what it means, mistaking pious imitation for discipleship. But John helps us with this. Jesus arose from the table, took towel and basin and pitcher and proceeded not with an act of weakness or subservience, but with an act of powerful and empowering service, on the night of the betrayal. Here was nothing short of a foretaste of the Kingdom of God.
Maundy Thursday’s evening liturgy engages powerful feelings that are loosed in the place where we gather: sorrow, loss, regret, maybe even fear. Powerful feelings are loosed this night as well by Jesus: commitment, conviction, determination, unconditional love, indestructible hope.
As the church is stripped of her adornments; as the light fades away and silence descends, know that God is rising, laying everything aside, and loving his own to the end.