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)
Jesus...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. (John 13:4-5 NRSV)
Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper. (Luke 22:19-20 NRSV)
ON THURSDAY OF HOLY WEEK, Christians around the world gather to remember Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples. The day is called Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday. It is likely that Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum, which, as you might guess, can be translated as mandate or commandment. On this night, just before his arrest, Jesus would give his disciples three mandates: love one another, serve one another, and remember him in the breaking of the bread.
Love and serve one another: Sitting at the table, Jesus said to his gathered disciples, “I give you a new commandment. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” What does it mean to love as Jesus loved? While Jesus undoubtedly felt a brotherly love for his disciples, that was not the love he demanded of his disciples here. He demanded agape—not feelings, but selfless acts done to help, benefit, or care for another. Earlier in John 13 we read, “He now showed them the full extent of his love” (John 13:1c NIV). Then he proceeded to assume the role of the lowest household servant by washing his disciples’ feet.
After washing their feet, Jesus said, “I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” Loving by serving is meant to define the Christian life. Jesus said this would be a sign to the world that we are his followers. We live selflessly and sacrificially towards others. In this we become leaven and salt. We let our light shine so that, through us, the world glimpses God’s Kingdom and what we were meant to be as human beings.
Sunday a physician told me how a man had come to her office the previous week. He said he was not a patient, but his friend was. His friend needed a $1,700 procedure that was not covered by insurance, and the man knew his friend could not afford it. The man said, “I’m here to pay for the procedure, but you cannot tell him who did this. Please simply say that the expenses have been covered.” The physician told me, “In all my years of practice I’ve never had anyone do something like this.” In this one act, the benefactor had demonstrated both what it means to love and what it means to serve.
The final command Jesus gave was to remember him through the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the cup. While we do this in Holy Communion, I’ve often felt Jesus intended something more. Every meal in every Jewish home included bread and wine. I wonder if he did not intend that every time his followers gave thanks at mealtime, they would remember him. This is what we do when we pause to say grace at meals. In this simple act, we remember him who gave his life for us.
Lord, help me to remember your love and sacrifice every day of my life. Give me the grace to love and serve others without a desire for recognition or repayment. Amen.