Perhaps, like me, you grew up in a faith tradition that never celebrated Maundy Thursday. It was relatively late in life before I even heard the term for the first time, and my first thought was, “What’s a Maundy?”
It turns out that the word “maundy” comes from the latin word for “mandate.” The celebration comes the day before Good Friday, because it commemorates The Last Supper. And when I realized what it means, I realized how poor my faith tradition was without this holiday.
Evangelical churches tend to focus on The Great Commission as Jesus’ last words to the Church. (That’s especially true of Baptist churches, because it means we get to dunk ’em.) But Maundy Thursday reminds us of Jesus turning the tables on theology before His death and resurrection. John 13-17 tell the story of The Last Supper, and I’m afraid that all too often we just think of that time as the beginning of the ordinance of Communion. But nearly the whole of His words and actions that evening revolve around this statement in John 13:
34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.
From the time of Moses to this very moment, the Jews’ commands had been centered completely on the Law and following the rules without fail. In these three lines, Jesus turns that upside down and says that from that point forward theology should be based on His love for us and our response to that with love for each other. It was the new mandate that we remember on Maundy Thursday.
As we think of Jesus’ death on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter, we’re missing a lot if we don’t also remember His mandate on Maundy Thursday. These days the Church is not known for its love of Jesus or each other. In other words, we’re not following Christ’s last command in human form.