Maundy Thursday, 2018

The name Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin mandatum. Our English word, mandate, is a good translation. We also use the word commandment as a translation of the concept. Because the celebration of Holy Communion is part of a traditional Maundy Thursday service, some have come to believe that the commandment of the day is Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to “do this in remembrance of me,” but it is a different commandment from which the day draws its name.

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are the focus of many congregation’s Holy Week activities. The common telling of the story of the last week of Jesus’ life recalls Thursday as the night that Jesus ate the last supper with his disciples, prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, was arrested, tried and condemned to death. The next day, Good Friday, is the day of the execution itself.

The mandate of Maundy Thursday - the commandment that we always include in the liturgy of the day - comes from John 13:34: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” It is often read with the next verse as well: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The commandment to love in the midst of grief is powerful and critical.

Too often I have found myself in the midst of family conflict as I walk the road of grief with those who have lost a loved one. Conflict and the need for a reminder to love one another is more common in times of grief than we would like to believe.

Once, at a funeral for a woman that I had known for several decades, I was blunt and direct with her children and told them that i remembered when they were younger and I would visit their home. Sometimes there would be a bit of bickering between the children. When they got especially noisy or the bickering got emotional and drew tears, I could clearly remember their mother yelling, “You kids knock it off!” This, I said, was chief among my messages to them on the occasion of their mother’s funeral: “You kids knock it off!” They knew exactly what I meant. Unlike some situations where family members come to disagreement over the estate and the conflict has at its roots an element of greed, this family wasn’t fighting over money. There were genuine disagreements about the division of responsibilities now that their parents had died. The children lived in different cities and it would be easy for them to have gone off after the funeral in their separate ways and not been close.

In this particular case, I have had an on-going relationship with family members. It is clear that they have found new ways to continue to be a family and strengthened relationships since the death of their mother. I’ve even been told by one of the children that they remembered what I said. I said exactly what needed to be said at the funeral. I hope and pray that I have done so.

There are, however, other situations in which I have been involved in which the conflict is more deep seated and the solutions don’t come easily. I’ve planned funerals where family members are so angry at one another that they won’t come together to plan the funeral. I am unable to arrange a meeting with all of the family members at once. On occasion, I’ve even engaged in “shuttle diplomacy,” going back and forth between surviving family members trying to plan a funeral that is meaningful for all involved. I’ve been told to defy the wishes of a sibling or other family member.

It makes me sad when I encounter these situations. I try my best to minister to all of the people involved and to bring some pace to the situation, but I know that there are problems that are beyond my power to solve.

It makes m sad in a similar way when I look at the church of Jesus Christ and how we hav allowed disagreements and divisions to mark our character and identity. It isn’t just the big fights, like the Protestant Reformation that left us with different denominations and different ecclesiastical structures. These divisions re sad, but they are understandable in a historic context. But Jesus’ disciples disobey the mandatum in our everyday lives. I’ve heard Christians speak ill of members of other churches. I’ve hard the charges of apostasy leveled against those with whom there is disagreement. I’ve heard Christians reject other Christians and accuse them of not being faithful.

Such behavior must continue to grieve Jesus.

His commandment was so simple - just to love one another.

So we recall that commandment every year on Maundy Thursday. We speak it aloud - not just in the congregation I serve, but in congregations all around the Christian Church. It is proclaimed by Orthodox and Western, by Catholic and Protestant, by Evangelical and Mainline. We say it because we need the practice. Like many other aspects of Christian faith, our worship is a form of practice of the behaviors that we need. The vision of a world where all of Jesus’ disciples practice the love he commanded remains unfulfilled thousands of years after his crucifixion and resurrection.

Like the time between a death and a funeral, Holy Week, is a time for prayer and contemplation. It is a time for the disruption of schedules and the laying aside of the everyday. It is a holiday - a holy time - a sacred time.

“By this everyone will know that your are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” In the tension of church meetings, in the reality of disagreements, in the middle of budget building and fund raising, in the forming of committees, in the conflicts of schedule - in all of the everyday life of the church - may we demonstrate the commandant that Jesus gave us in such a way that everyone will know we are disciples.

May we love one another.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!