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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

From the Pastor...March 2008

"Maundy" Thursday. Most people don't have a clue to what the term "Maundy" means. The word "Maundy" is derived from the Latin verb "mandare" meaning "to command" or "mandatum" meaning "commandment." The day gained the name "Maundy" NOT because Jesus gave the command to observe the Lord's Supper, but actually from the Gospel reading for the day, John chapter 13, where he says these words: "A new commandment I give you. Love one another." And although most of us associate the day with the institution of Holy Communion, the overarching theme is this other command of Jesus: "Love one another; even as I have loved you, love one another."

Perhaps we need to back up a little bit and set these words in context before we try to elaborate on their meaning and significance in relation to the day. John begins chapter 13 with a somber, reflective comment onn what was the eve of Jesus' crucifixion. "Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love." We are informed that all of the props for the evening's drama were in place. The evening meal had been prepared. The devil had already prompted Judas to betray Jesus. And suddenly, Jesus--on this, the eve of his crucifixion--springs into action. He rises from the table, takes off his outer clothing, wrapts a towel around his waist, pours water into a basin--and begins to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with a towel.

Several verses are then spent on a little "trist" between Jesus and Peter. Peter tells Jesus: "Heaven forbid, Lord, YOU shall never wash my feet!" And Jesus informs him that it is necessary for him to wash him, and other, to "make them clean."

The story really gets to the point with verse 14, as Jesus says to his disciples:

"Now that I, your teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set before you an example, that you should do as I have done for you...A NEW COMMANDMENT I GIVE TO YOU--LOVE ONE ANOTHER. AS I HAVE LOVED YOU, SO YOU MUST LOVE ONE ANOTHER."

Now, these are awfully interesting words of Jesus, aren't they? Jesus COMMANDS, ORDERS his followers to "love one aother." Ever think about that? Just 'cause I tell you to love someone, doesn't mean you're going to be able to do it--am I right? On one level, love can't be COMMANDED, can it? If by love I mean a warm, gushy feeling toward another.

Even when we think of a man and woman loving each other...think of a time when marriages were arranged, when brides were bought and sold for a dowry price. How awful not to be able to marry for love! LOVE is an emotion, right? A feeling.. not something that can be forced or manufactured or created by an act of will power!

To further confuse issues, the prophet Jeremiahh speaks of day when God would write "the law on his people's hearts." This prophecy presumably fulfilled with the coming of Jesus. In other word, people would love not because the were TOLD to but because they would WANT to. They would love without being threatened or cajoled into doing it.

And yet, Jesus here utters a COMMANDMENT. HE tells them they must now LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Why the need for a commandment?

Could it be that this new, Spirit engendered response of the Christian, of our love to God's love, can be so easily stifled and snuffed out, that a commandment IS necessary? Perhaps we need a command, even as Christians, because, viewing love as we so often do as a mere emotion, we are so unpridictable in our loving. Could it be that the shadow of laziness haunts our love? Could it be that as Christians, perhaps more so as Christians, we need to be reminded that love is hard work, that it has to be more lip service. And that therefore it is more appropriate to speak of love as something which CAN be commanded.

SO, you see, there IS a sense in which love can be commanded. To command love is to realize that our feelings need to be undergirded by determination and effort. If Jesus is telling us anything, he is telling us that love is NOT just a gushy, sentimental feeling. Love is an ACT of caring and sharing. Folk singer Pete Seeger one wrote that, in his opinion, SHARE is actually a better word than love, because it is more descriptive of what loving is all about. "To love is to share our vulnerablity and neediness of one another, giving and receiving help." So don't just talk about love, SHOW it! That's what Jesus is getting at.

Remember that footwashing is not necessarily a pleasurable experience. Feet are often stinky and in Jesus' day were very dirty. Foot washing was normally relegated to a servant, and was not done by the host. But that brings up an important point. Not all loving work which need to be done is enjoyable. We cannot be commanded to LIKE a person, but love goes deeper than liking. God doesn't necessarily expect us to LIKE our neighbor. HE does expect us to LOVE our neighbor. At the very least we can see that person as someone for whom Christ died. The bible calls this kind of love "AGAPE," which is loving, expecting nothing in return. It helps love to stay alive evne when people are not at their best, even at times when they are not particularly lovable.

"Love one another." So many times, loving one another is seemingly impossible. SO many times we are tempted to give up. But even in his command, Jesus supplies our needs, empowers us to love! The very sight of the soon to be crucified Jesus, who, thought king of the universe, condescends to take a towel and wash feet, on the eve of his death, compels us to hear, and obey. His words are true. And example is, after all, the best teacher.

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