34 “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
(John 13:34-35, Common English Bible)
I’ve spent most of the day preparing several prayer stations for a time of reflection and prayer on Maundy Thursday. I confess that my Baptist roots didn’t do much with the notion of Holy Week, focusing in theory on Easter, but in fact centering the entire remembrance in the cross rather than the resurrection. “High Church” affections like Maundy Thursday were never a consideration, and it was only when I stumbled into my MethoLife that I began to learn about the Christian year, and gain the riches of this week that we call holy.
For some reason this year the thing that jumps out at me the most today is not the rituals, but the word itself. Maundy is a strange word which isn’t often unpacked. In fact, many scholars believe that it comes from the Latin mandatum, which means “commandment.” The commandment that the day refers to is Christ’s teaching above, the new commandment to love one another as Christ has loved us.
Mandatum, of course, is the root of other words in our language. In fact, it wouldn’t be too far out of sorts to suggest that Jesus has given us a new mandate, the mandate of sacrificial love, so that all the world will know who we follow. It’s an important distinction, for “mandate” in our language is stronger than command. Webster defines a mandate as an “authoritative command,” and an authorization for a group of people to act in a particular way. We ignore commands all the time, but it’s much harder to ignore a mandate.
The mandate of sacrificial love is indeed new to the disciples during that last gathering. Yes, they have heard Jesus talk about and demonstrate love. They have heard Jesus proclaim that loving neighbor as we love ourselves is the greatest commandment. However, Jesus trumps that standard, suggesting that his followers should love each other MORE than they love their selves; that they should be willing to sacrifice their lives for one another.
Leonard Sweet once suggested that if the Golden Rule was the standard before, Jesus is offering a new rule, the Platinum Rule, by which guides everything we do in our life together. It is this platinum rule which empowered the early Christians to sell all their possessions and share their resources equally. It is the platinum rule that led people to give their own lives to protect the well being of the community. These were a people with a mandate, and that mandate transformed their lives.
Note that Jesus doesn’t say that we should love one another, but that we MUST love one another, just as he loves us. This Maundy Thursday centers us in a mandate of love, demonstrated in the washing of feet, and in Christ’s sacrifice of body and blood on the cross. Jesus looks at us today and tells us to not only wash feet, but to take up our crosses daily as we follow him.
He’s given us a mandate. I don’t think we can ignore it.