“Mandatum novum.” “I give you a new commandment.”
That’s where we get the name for this day - “Maundy Thursday”. It comes from the Latin, mandatum novum - “I give you a new commandment.”
Today marks a shift. During most of Lent we are engaged in a recreation of Jesus’ wandering in the wilderness before he begins his earthly ministry. We submit ourselves to an annual season of spiritual wandering – examining those ways in which we have grown separate from God, and hopefully marking those separations with occasions of repentance, turning ourselves ever more God-ward. It’s in the context of that repentance and reconciliation that we can enter fully into the joy of the Resurrection.
But today, our focus shifts. We enter the Triduum – the final days of preparation for Easter. Where we had been wandering, we now press forward – toward a certain goal. And with a new commandment to lead our way.
It’s remarkable that our first stop along the way is what it is: the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
On the night before Jesus was to be betrayed, and beaten, and humiliated, and eventually killed - before all of that, he took one final moment of personal privilege. He gathered around a table for fellowship with his friends - the people whom he had called on this strange journey with him, and the ones who had left everything behind to follow him. In one final act of private, intimate love, he shared a meal with them, and his final words of advice.
“Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.”
After the miracles surrounding his birth… After his childhood wandering away from his parents in the temple… After the teachings… After the feeding and the healing… After all the signs and wonders… It all comes down to this.
“Love one another.”
That’s what it’s all been about.
In the dark days ahead, that’s what it will be about then, too.
I think it sometimes gets lost on us - in the ritual and the familiarity of Sunday after Sunday - but that’s what it’s about each time we gather around this table, too. It’s about remembering that we are one body.
We come from our various lives and positions and experiences. We all have our own joys and traumas and sadnesses and concerns. There is so much that makes us seem dis-membered.
But the bread breaks, and the wine is poured out, and as we all take our own little piece of it, we become united in the bread and in the cup. We remember the new commandment, and we are re-membered into the Body of Christ we were called to be.
This is the sacrifice to which Jesus called us.
This is the sacrifice that Jesus modeled for us.
The sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.
Taking what was dismembered and re-membering it.
That’s the new commandment. Remember how I have loved you, and love each other just that lavishly. Just that recklessly. Love one another in risky and sacrificial ways. Just love.