Maundy Thursday. Or perhaps you prefer Holy Thursday. Either fits this day. But the title you choose might depend on the emphasis you wish to provide during this act of worship. The “Maundy” in Maundy Thursday, as you know, comes from the Latin word for commandment. If you have a tradition of reenacting the foot washing from the Gospel of John, then you want to name this day Maundy Thursday. The commandment has to do with love that is embodied in service. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another” (John 13:34 NRSV). This is the command to love we suggest for this service. It might seem unreasonable to command love, but that is what Jesus does. This means that part of what we need to do here is to help people understand what this kind of love means. When Jesus says, “as I have loved you,” he is pointing back to the washing of the disciples’ feet. The command is to serve in loving ways. This isn’t about an emotion or a feeling toward others; it is an act that we can perform.
Yes, of course, the spirit in which we perform this act matters. But we can always ask, “Where does the spirit come from? Is it something we concoct before we act, or is it something that we discover in the serving?” It’s not an either/or, we know. But for many, the attitude grows and changes when we act in loving ways. We are overwhelmed by the very grace we are offering. We are transformed by that grace, and we discover that we are merely conduits for something that comes from beyond us.
Likewise, the meal we remember is not just a ritual or a reenactment. It is also an act of loving service. How might we serve this meal? How might we celebrate Communion where the community is even more evident as we gather? If you are used to standing in a line or kneeling in a row to receive the elements, maybe this time, you sit around a table or stand in a circle and serve one another, look one another in the eye and see real people in need of grace, just like we are. Maybe this time, you have a child serve instead of the pastor. Maybe this time, you set up tables and sit in groups and give time for sharing and listening to one another before and as you serve one another. Let the bread and the cup be a sign of the service that will continue once the service has concluded. Let the healing and the feeding of the soul go deeper than the surface and last longer than the moment of serving. This is a commitment, a commandment to live a new way. To live a better way. Commanded to love.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.