A “new commandment,” the phrase perks my ears. Though I am not great at keeping commandments, I want to. I like to know what is expected of me, I want to make those around me happy, I want to be known as someone who does what is expected, what is right. So if there is a new commandment, I want to know what it is.
I, ready with pen and paper, or my iPhone to take a picture of it written on a whiteboard.
The disciples knew commandments well. They were deeply familiar with the prescriptions of the Mosaic Law. These commandments provided a guideline for what made them distinctive from the other nations around them, these included prescriptions about what to eat, who to socialize with, how to socialize with others, relationships, and how to worship.
So you can imagine how attentive they must have been to hear this new commandment.
Or maybe they were not so attentive . . . when you have so many of them, would you want to add another one?
If they had been paying attention this whole situation could have been avoided. The entire evening would have probably gone differently. They would have known that his time was ending, they would have remembered that Jesus is the bread of life and would continue to be past his death, they would have known this “new commandment” because Jesus had already explained it to a teacher of the law as they walked towards Jerusalem.
Today though, Jesus went beyond talking and into clear, crisp, non-arguable action. He gathers with those he loves--even one who would betray him--and breaks bread.
This most intimate act of calloused hands, passing around the fruit of the earth, conversation that rehearsed the day, laughter from the joy of celebrating, a holiday that reminds that they are a free people, because of God’s bountiful grace.
Soon the dry, cracked, lips share one cup; the beloved and the betrayer, the zealot and the sell-out, the doubter and the determined, Sipping, Passing, Broken and poured out, Remembering. Made one, not because of who they were but because of who Jesus is.
This gathering and its call to continue it would have been enough. The reminder that we too must be a people being broken and poured out. Constantly gathering with others who’s commonality is simply being human.
Gathering to satisfy the human need for nutrition and connection.
Gathering to remember that it is in dying that new life emerges, in brokenness and suffering that transformation is found.
That should have been enough . . .
But as if we needed a more difficult task than eating across the boundaries that we have set for ourselves Jesus models even more.
Imagine with me this teacher, master, and friend. This miracle worker, wonder maker, and wandering master now removing his outer garments and kneeling before them: the master before the students, the lord before the servants, the creator before the creature.
No wonder Peter refused at first . . . this breaks the “natural order of things!”
As if that was not enough now a pronouncement: “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me” and “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” and “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.”
That’s it! That’s the new way, the new commandment, the new guiding principle, the new clarifying statement . . . and yet . . .
Maundy Thursday is an annual reminder that our way is not God’s way. Though difficult to acknowledge the reality is that humans tend to behave like life is about power, when Jesus demonstrates that is about servanthood. We think is about control, and Jesus shows us that it is about letting go (about surrender), we think it is about living comfortably and Jesus shows us is about death.
We like Peter might want to stop Jesus from washing us . . . maybe that baby should bemoan their baptism, should do all in its power to avoid the waters.
Maybe pastors should put a warning sign in the baptismal font, a surgeon’s general warning on the baptismal certificate:
Warning: Baptism causes death of false self and brings about Christlikeness, Compassion, Love, Mercy, and a supernatural ability to forgive. May complicate living life as you are used to.
Tonight we renew our commitment to the way of Jesus. To the mystery of Grace at work in our lives, we chose to walk the way, the uncertain pathway to the cross, we choosing to enter into the mystery of our faith, we being washed, broken, and poured out, we remembering that we have been initiated into the way of Jesus, a life of servanthood and humility, These virtues being the fruit of God’s love that continues to transform our lives.
Tonight it does seem impossible, unlikely, scary, uncertain, and dramatic. It is dangerous, it will require sacrifice, It will also call us to take off our outer garments, the masks that we wear, the fears that we hold, the prejudices that bind us, and the uncertainties that make us anxious. It will also call us to pay attention, to go on the slow journey, the pilgrimage to a new way of being.
Tonight I invite us to stay the course for death though near, will not have the last say!