Maundy Thursday: By this everyone will know

John 13:1-17

It should come as no surprise that I believe the central message of the Gospel, the good news of the Gospel, is love. God loves the world so much that the events of the next three days were allowed to unfold. God loved creation to such an extent that God was willing to come and be part of it and show us a new way to live, to love, and to serve.

The name Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum and refers to the last line of the Gospel passage we read this evening. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” A new commandment, not a new suggestion, a commandment, a mandate, a mandatum.

Tonight, we commemorate the institution of the Sacrament of the very body and blood of Jesus. Through the act, Christ gave himself and continues to give himself to the Church and the world. This was a gift of sacrificial giving and is the only thing that can be given. The selfless outpouring for others is the essence of love—no greater love than to lay down one’s life for others.

But let us back up a bit in the story.

Jesus is gathered with his friends for their last Passover together. They are together, in borrowed space, unsure of what is coming. They are all there is a hopeful expectation that this is the night that the plans are announced. Indeed, plans have been announced that will revolutionize how we interact. But these are not the plans they were expecting.

The revolution was not physical but spiritual. They will all know this…

Several times during the evening, Jesus refers to this: do this, remember this, know this. What is this?

When the supper was ended, Jesus took bread, “and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.'” We heard these words of Paul in his letter to the Church in Corinth. These are called the “Words of Institution” and are said each time we celebrate the Eucharist.

Jesus takes the bread and the cup and offers them to those seated with him, offering himself to the world through this. This is sacrificial love in action. But it goes deeper than that. This is not some mere symbol; in a spiritual way, Jesus comes to us through this Sacrament.

There is also a reconciling element to communion. It has become the fashion to use the Sacrament as a weapon to divide God’s people further. Some places of worship restrict who can come to the table for many reasons, none of which I believe are valid.

At that first celebration of communion, all of Jesus’ Apostles were present, all of them. Except for John, all those sitting around that table would abandon Jesus in his hour of need. They would think of themselves and their safety rather than be with their friend and teacher in his final hours. Peter was there, the one who would three times deny that he knew Jesus. And Judas, the one who betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver was there and was given the bread and cup of reconciliation and love.

It is important to remember that although Jesus knew what would happen and what those around that table would do, he still provided the bread of life and the cup of salvation. He reconciled them, forgave them, and provided the grace of the Sacrament. How can we do any less?

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had this to say, specifically about foot-washing but along the same lines as the reconciling element of communion.

“Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. Every disciple. Jesus also predicts his death and the betrayal of Judas. Yet he washes Judas’ feet. Jesus knew what Judas would do, but still, he breaks bread with him. Jesus extends love and the possibility of change and redemption all the way to the end. He never treats Judas as ‘the enemy’, as worthless, as someone whose dignity and humanity can just be erased or disregarded. Even in betrayal and pain, Jesus attends to the humanity of the one who hurts him.”

Love, forgiveness, and service will be the themes for the coming days. Jesus shows us through his actions how and why we are to love and serve all and work to bring reconciliation wherever we can. This is the Gospel in action and is an imperative.

We show love by our actions, and one of those actions is not setting up artificial obstructions to God’s grace. God made it rather simple; we have made it difficult. It is a very weak God that needs humanity to defend it. Why would we spend so much time and energy building higher walls when God wants us to build larger tables.

If we truly love our neighbor, then it is our responsibility to work to dismantle all those things that separate all of those policies that keep people out when we should be letting them in. God is not the God for just a few, but rather God, my God anyway, is the God that loves all equally and without hesitation.

By this, everyone will know.

By this love, by this outpouring of love, by this sacrificial love that Jesus taught us and that we are commanded to show to others is how they, the world, will know that we are his followers.


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