This post reflects upon the significance of Maundy Thursday for the whole of the week throughout the church year. Maundy Thursday signifies that there can be no such thing as “Sunday Christians.” Sunday Christians are those who supposedly only live as Christians when they go to church on Sundays. But church is more than a place to go and attend. It is a daily way of being in the world. Every day is a day for obedience to Christ, a day of obedient communion entailing sacrificial love for one another as Jesus’ followers, overflowing in love for the world.
“Maundy” derives from the Latin word “mandatum,” which means “command.” Maundy Thursday stands for Jesus’ command to his disciples to love one another. He told his disciples the evening before “Good Friday”: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35; NIV)
What kind of love is it? A humble, vulnerable, self-sacrificial love. Jesus shared this command with his disciples after he washed all their feet during the last supper.
I have read this passage countless times over the years, but never cease to be amazed by Jesus’ person and how he leads and loves. We are told in John 12 that his “hour of glory” had come. So, what does he do when this hour of glory arrives? What does he do when it is impressed upon him that he has come from God and is returning to God? He takes off his outer garments, picks up a bowl of water and a towel, and begins washing his followers’ dusty, dirty feet. He even washed Judas’s feet, knowing full well that Judas would betray him into the hands of his enemies that night. Such incredible love.
I can’t recall the last time I washed someone else’s feet. The closest I come to this text is in massaging my adult son Christopher’s feet. I massage them and rotate them most every time I visit him in his adult care facility. My son endured a traumatic brain injury over two years ago. He is completely dependent on others to care for him. And so, I move his arms, legs, and feet all because I love him. In fact, I wish he and I could exchange places, if that is what it would take to get him out of bed and up on his feet.
Of course, it is not easy to do all this, and for a variety of reasons. One of the staff told me just the other day that most residents at the facility don’t receive visitors. Many of them have family who live in the same town, even down the street. But they cannot muster the strength or resolve to visit their family members. I get it. It ain’t easy.
How much more difficult would it be to visit another person who is not one’s parent or spouse or child, but one’s servant, or even someone who you know will betray you in the end? Jesus’ divine visitation to earth involves such sacrificial love. He calls us to follow in his footsteps and love those with dirty feet and messy lives. This is not for the faint of heart or Sunday Christians.
Only someone who is incredibly secure can freely operate in this way. There was no sign or suggestion Jesus would humble himself in such dramatic fashion in the preceding chapters in John’s Gospel. Nor was there any indication in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) that Jesus would say during the Passover story that the broken bread and outpoured wine signified his broken body and shed blood as the Passover lamb.
Jesus is the great High Priest who offers himself up as the lamb of sacrifice. He is the almighty King who leads as a servant. He is the supreme Judge who is judged in our place, as Karl Barth claimed. That is humble, vulnerable, and self-sacrificial love. Those who follow him are a royal people who serve others, a pure and priestly people who pour themselves out for others, and a just people who do not condemn but accept others in humble, pure, self-sacrificial love. Jesus’ Maundy Thursday command to love one another involves these incredible qualities and traits.
However, we cannot muster the strength to love in this way on our own no matter the day of the week. It requires secure attachment even on our best days. Just as Jesus knew that he had come from God and was returning to God, so knowing Jesus has loved us in this radical though simple way and will continue to love us in like manner leads us to love one another in turn. Every time we seek to love others as Jesus loves us, we must begin at the beginning—the way Jesus loves. John 13 begins with these words: “It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1; NIV).
We will either pour ourselves out for others or fill ourselves up at the expense of others. These are ultimately the only two options available to us, especially when dealing with those who are not so easy to love, like Peter, Thomas, and especially Judas. Only as Jesus pours out his life for us and the Spirit fills us with God’s love can we be freed up to freely pour out our lives for others every day of the week. Such communion transforms us and guards against transactional relationships involving commodification.
God’s love never rests, no matter the day of the week. Nor should our obedience to love one another sacrificially from the heart rest. Maundy Thursday signifies that there can be no such thing as Sunday Christians who only love those they like. Maundy Thursday kind of love should spill out in love for one another and the world at large no matter how dirty our feet or how messy our lives every day of the week.