Maundy (‘Commandment’) Thursday: God’s First and Jesus’ Last Commandments Meet
Christians are suffering a crisis of the First Commandment: that’s the one that goes, “You shall have no other gods but me.”
Straight from the ancient get-go, in a sentence that leaves no room to wonder about mediating, asterisky caveats, God laid it out: Every thought, word, and deed is to be directed by our fidelity to our Creator.
Our allegiance, in positively everything, is to be in keeping with the ways of the One who made us and all the rest of it.
We can all rattle off, of course, the daily, garden variety competing claims on our allegiance, tugs to our faithfulness that masquerade as necessities or acceptable norms: security, self-preservation, enjoyments-that-become-addictions, and the like.
Rattling off those sorts of trespasses doesn’t mean that we actually avoid them, of course, and many of them cause horrible, wrenching pain to us and others, no doubt.
They are, though, manifest-across-the-millenia slights to and slams against First Commandment fidelity.
A sin, however, facing us now broadly and culturally, and one that is quintessential First Commandment stuff, is the degree to which we put the present nationalistic agenda before God’s agenda.
Our support of, our silent acquiesence to, our apathy about the nationalistic priorities of this administration and the policies and postures it sets into motion are an affront to the fundamental commandment, the one that frames all the rest and everything that comes later.
We are experiencing nothing less than a First Commandment crisis, for the well-being of the creatures and creation of God are at stake.
Moreover, what Christians do about it, or don’t do about it, ripples far beyond the dangerous effects of the rhetoric, especially when codified into law and policy.
Christianity is being equated with nationalism.
When people call themselves Christians but act out of faithfulness to nationalism, we become seen as disciples of Trump when we purport to be disciples of Jesus.
Worse, the reigning political agenda gets consequently confused with God’s. People think that this administration reflects how Christians understand God’s way of being in the world.
So directly into this crisis, along comes Maundy Thursday into the mix.
This evening, Jesus gives up a new commandment: “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.” John 13:34-35
Turns out, Jesus is saying, that not only is an act of love toward another an act of healing and compassion, but there’s a double bonus: when we offer Jesus-like love to another, it’s like a PSA is sent out about who this First-Commandment God is, this one to whom we’ve promised our allegiance.
Keep in mind, Jesus is not talking to his disciples about schmarmy love, or ‘what evs’ love, or enabling love.
Jesus is on the cusp of crucifixion precisely because of the kind of love he showed to his followers and non-followers: welcome, hospitality, food, water, wine, forgiveness, healing, and no-restraint honest calling-outings.
Jesus is talking about the kind of love that gets a person killed, because it is a love that places faithfulness to the Power over faithfulness to the powers that be.
We will be identified not as nationalists, but as Christians, if we love one another.
Christians cannot be nationalists.
We cannot be faithful to the First Commandment and this First Commander.
They are antithetical allegiances.
Jesus’ life was about sharing radical love that is defined not by exclusion and privilege, but rather inclusion and sacrificial service.
Jesus’ death was due to his unwillingness to bow in allegiance to authorities of his day, who, as it turns out, were the nationalists of his day.
In Jesus, we see God’s definition of Love in Action, and we therefore see God.
By our acts of love done in allegiance to Jesus, people will therefore see God.
The Maundy Thursday gathering of Jesus and the disciples carried such poignant heft to the early Church that the apostle Paul heard of it decades down the pike.
Here’s what he learned about the evening of the Last Supper:
“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of 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.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-29
Linger at this line: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.”
This eating and drinking matters, for they either consecrate or convict what we do after we partake.
Maundy Thursday (which means, literally, ‘Commandment Thursday,’) completes two points of the obvious arc between God’s first commandment and Jesus’ last commandment:
Love one another.
No mediating asterisks or caveats.
Love only God.
For then, they will know that you are Christians, and they will better know the true God.
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