Maundy Thursday is one of the days I fell in love with Jesus.
(I say one of the days because some of us are slow learners and it takes repeated experience to get the idea.)
It was Maundy Thursday 1990 when I had an epiphany that changed the way I understood my faith. I don’t know why it took so long for me to get the idea (20 years, to be exact) but the experience was like someone pulling up the shade on a window so I could finally see the view I knew was there because I’d been staring for years at the thin cracks of light around the edges.
As I’ve said before, I did not grow up with much appreciation for liturgical structure in the church and, frankly, had no idea what Maundy Thursday was. In retrospect this ignorance is quite surprising given the fact that I was an every Sunday kind of kid, but, as my friend Carol says, “There it is . . . !”
That year I attended a Maundy Thursday service at the church I was attending while in college because I was curious and also because I was very, very holy back then (my, how things change!).
There were probably 15 people at the service. The lights were dim and the pastor read the scripture account of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Then we all had to get up and stand in a circle. (I remember being curious about what was next; I now know that, had I not been an extrovert, this instruction would have terrified me beyond belief.) This was what Jesus wanted most to leave with his disciples, the pastor explained as we gathered in the circle: his final admonition that we should be busy loving each other. Then, we took a towel and symbolically washed each other’s hands.
I never knew.
I never knew that’s what Jesus’ final message to his ragtag group of disciples was.
I guess I grew up fixated on Good Friday, when the pastor would turn off all the lights and we’d wait for the huge slam of the Bible on the altar—our cue to leave in silence. We heard about torture and whipping, about Jesus struggling to carry the cross, about abandonment and blood and pain and death.
But we never talked about loving each other.
Maundy Thursday is the day I fell in love with Jesus because I finally realized that it wasn’t the horror of Good Friday that gives substance to my faith . . . it’s the mandate of Maundy Thursday: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.