Today is Maundy Thursday. It is called that because, on the last night of his life, Jesus gave us a new commandment or mandate. This new commandment was that we were to “love one another.”
That doesn’t seem new to me … at least it shouldn’t have been new. For the Jews of Jesus’ day there were two great commandments: love God and love neighbor. This dated back at least to the time of Moses, so how was this command by Jesus new?
I have pondered this for a while, and all I could come up with is that, perhaps, Jesus was trying to command a new love, a new kind of love, or a new way to be loving. We were commanded long ago to love God and neighbor, but that didn’t seem to have much of an impact on how we behaved or how we treated one another. Maybe Jesus was hoping a new commandment might work better than the ancient one had. If Christians’ behavior throughout the centuries is any indication, however, then Jesus’ new commandment hasn’t had much impact either.
Maybe love can’t be only commanded. Jesus went on to wash his disciples’ feet that night and to offer bread and wine as symbols of the gift of himself. We have not followed that model of servanthood and self-giving very well either. Our sense of entitlement is so deeply ingrained that most of us don’t even notice our own behavior.
Churches that include foot-washing as part of their Maundy Thursday observance often report that it is the least attended service of the year. Most people say that is because Americans have a phobia about feet. I wonder where that came from. We are in equal measure resistant to being served as we are to serving. Perhaps that is because we have a spiritual resistance both to being loved unconditionally and to loving that way.
There is no Easter without Good Friday. There can be no new life without the death of the old. Habits, values, patterns, and identity all must die before something new can be born, something new and capable of obeying a new commandment to love in new ways.
Rev. Michael Piazza