Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them … 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.”
This worship service – the scripture we read … the things we remember … the things we do – all of this reinforces the foundations of what it means to follow Christ. It reminds us we are God’s beloved. It teaches us what it looks like to be a disciple … it shapes our understanding of what it means to be the church.
“Maundy” comes from the ancient Latin phrase Mandatum Novum – New Mandate … or hopefully more familiar to us “New Commandment” from John 13.34, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
The commandment we remember and celebrate tonight is core to who we are … it is central to our understanding of discipleship … it is core to our identity as Christ’s church – “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This is who we are, as the church we are people who are loved by Christ and we are people who love.
Through Christian history, people have asked, “What makes a church a church?”
During the Protestant Reformation, guys like Martin Luther and John Calvin, settled on the answer that the church is “Where ever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists” (John Calvin, “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” p. 1023).
I remember being really disappointed in an intro to theology class when I heard this “classical definition of the marks of the church.” I remember thinking, “This is Martin Luther’s … this is John Calvin’s best definition of the church? … this is the greatest thinkers in our tradition’s best understanding of the church?”
There had to be more to it … surely an important piece was missing.
It seemed like more of a reaction to what they didn’t like about other churches, than something that could help us understand who we are as a church and why we do what we do together as a church.
Fortunately, Christians have continued to wrestle with the question of what makes a church a church.
One of my favorite writers and theologians, David Bosh, wrote:
When the Reformation shattered the ancient unity of the Western Church, each of the fragments into which it was now divided was obligated to define itself over against all other fragments. The Protestant preoccupation with right doctrine soon meant that every group which seceded from the main body had to validate its action by maintaining that it alone, and none of the others, adhered strictly to the “right preaching of the gospel.” The Reformational descriptions of the church thus ended up accentuating differences rather than similarities. Christians were taught to look divisively at other Christians … In all these instances the church was defined in terms of what happens inside its four walls, not in terms of its calling in the world … [the church] was [understood as] a place where something is done, not a living organism doing something (David Bosh, “Transforming Mission,” pp. 248-249).
I love that! The church is a living organism doing something.
An author I have been reading recently, suggested understanding the church as a “school of love” (Brian McLaren “The Great Spiritual Migration”). What if we understood the church as a community seeking to learn and live Jesus’ commandment to love God and love neighbors?
The church is the community of people seeking to live into Christ’s commandment from that Passover meal …
… if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you … (John 13.14-15 NRSV).
… 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 NRSV).
Tonight, on Maundy Thursday, we remember Christ’s commandment. We remember our calling. We are reminded of our identity as Christ’s church – we are “new commandment people.” We remember we are loved … we remember how amazing Jesus’ love is … and we remember the church is “a living organism doing something.” We are learning to serve as we have been served. We are figuring out how to love as we have been loved.
We are the church, a living, breathing, loving, serving, organism that is faithfully seeking to do something … to love God and to love each other.