It’s Maundy Thursday. So what on earth is a Maundy? It probably comes from the first word in the Latin translation of John 13:34, mandatum, which means commandment. In John 13, that word is used to speak of “the new commandment” Jesus gives to his disciples.
The disciples won’t follow Jesus to his death so they receive a new commandment that, if obeyed, will keep the Spirit of God alive among them as they continue their lives in this world: to love one another. But that’s a strange thing to say, isn’t it? Is love really something that one can command? And if it is, in what way can this possibly be called a new commandment?
I think it has to do with our basic underlying principles for discerning what it means to live in community. The Law, with all of its yes’s and no’s, was the basis of the Old Covenant. Jesus regarded the Law as good and important–his great commandments to love God and love one’s neighbour come from Deuteronomy and Leviticus respectively–but he frequently challenged a very narrow reading of it, whether that meant what food to eat, what day to work on, or what compromises Moses might have made because of hardened hearts.
These challenges weren’t arbitrary; they were based on a larger principle, namely, the principle of love. Where a plain reading of the Law helps with that, it’s good, and where it doesn’t, well, we might want to start reading differently. Love is to be the basic criterion we use to evaluate our ways of being in the world. As we approach Easter, it will be good for us to reflect on that criterion of love. Are our rituals, celebrations, feasts, and fellowship helping us to love one another? Where they are, let’s keep it up! Where they aren’t, let’s be open to letting those things die so that we might find something new being raised to life.