Monthly Archives: March 2013

Easter Message (1 of 2)

“What was the last thing I told you before I left?” a parent might ask a recalcitrant child upon the elder’s return. Parents who are leaving children to their own devices for awhile are familiar with the routine. You recap the most important instructions, refreshing the children’s memories. The most important is saved for last.

On his last Thursday night with his disciples, the Latin rendering of what Jesus told them was, “Mandatum novum do vobis” (“A new commandment I give you”). From this new command, or mandate, we derive our designation for Maundy Thursday. Jesus said that he was going away from them, back to his Father. He told them that the Holy Spirit would be with them helping them to remember all that he had told them and guiding them in the life he wanted them to live. To be sure that they kept the most important thing in mind, he saved it for last: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. {35} By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV) Jesus did not just tell them this most important thing. To make sure that they remembered it and did it, Jesus acted it out for them – not once, but twice that night. The word “command” (or Latin, mandatum) does not appear with the two demonstrations, but Jesus tells the disciples to reenact what he did in both cases.

Jesus and the disciples were gathered Thursday night for the Passover supper. It was the last time he would be together with all of them before his death by crucifixion. “Love one another, as I have loved you, (emphasis added)” Jesus told them. Three of the gospels tell us in similar fashion: “While they were eating, Jesus took some bread and thanked God for it and broke it. Then he gave it to his followers and said, ‘Take this bread and eat it; this is my body.’ {27} Then Jesus took a cup and thanked God for it and gave it to the followers. He said, ‘Every one of you drink this. {28} This is my blood which is . poured out for many to forgive their sins.'” (Matthew 26:26-27 NCV) How could anyone love another more completely than to give his own body and blood for their care? The Bible commands us to eat the bread and drink the cup, remembering all that Jesus said and did.

That was the second of the illustrations of the commands Jesus gave that night, leading to the new mandate. The other striking demonstration of Jesus’ kind of love came at the beginning of the meal. Only John, the “Beloved Disciple,” seems able to tell such a tender moment in his Lord’s life: “[Jesus] got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. {5} After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:4-5 NIV) When Jesus finished, he told the astonished disciples what he had just shown them: “Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it-and live a blessed life.” (John 13:12-17 MSG) He would tell them, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” He – the Lord Jesus Christ – lovingly washed their grimy, smelly feet, and he commanded us to do as much for each other.

I have long thought that a nice gift for newly-baptized followers of Jesus might be an embroidered towel. On one end of the towel the believer’s initials could be monogrammed. On the other end the monogram would be “IHS.” That monogram became one of the most frequently used representations of Christ from the 15th century until today. Often, you see the monogram at the center of a cross. The letters are the first three Greek letters – iota, eta, sigma – in the name, Jesus. Some ancient writings also connect the initials with the Latin phrase, “Iesous Hominum Salvator” (“Jesus, Savior of mankind”). Sounds like a meaningful way to commemorate someone’s baptism – until you realize that it almost inevitably would not be used as such a towel should be. A towel reminding us to follow Jesus should not be a “don’t-use-that-one-it’s-a-guest-towel,” one that permanently hangs neatly folded only for decoration. A “love one another, as I have loved you” towel has to be one for drying the tears and runny nose of a crying child. It might be used for stopping the bleeding and cleaning the wounds of someone who is injured. A Jesus-follower towel would be used to wipe the sweat and bathe a feverish patient. It would be used to wash contemporary disciples’ feet.

This last command Jesus gives, “Love one another, as I have loved you,” is stated clearly once, and acted out twice in the upper room. How much more emphasis could Jesus give the mandatum novum to be sure that we remembered and did it? But we know what it takes to keep this new commandment. The Apostle Paul said it very well:

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death-and the worst kind of death at that-a crucifixion. Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth-even those long ago dead and buried-will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11, MSG)

Jesus’ new command was to “love one another, as I have loved you.” Realizing that we live our lives as Christ-followers on the nourishment of Jesus’ body and blood given for us, and being willing to see to the needs of others like the foot-washing Jesus are essential to doing what he told us to do in the new command.

Maundy Thursday . Are we following Jesus’ mandates? When was the last time you received the Lord’s Supper and fully engaged what it means? Next time you reach for a towel, think of what Jesus did with one. How many times might Jesus check in with us to say, “Do you remember? After supper, what was the last thing I told you to do?”

– J. Edward Culpepper

P.S. I hope you can find and attend both a Maundy Thursday service to share communion and a Good Friday Tenebrae “Service of Shadows.” These worship services provide crucial reminders of the reality of Jesus’ suffering and death that are essential to the vibrant joy of Easter’s celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and our promise of new life through him.

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