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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Maundy Thursday 04/18/2019

I think that in every presidential election in recent memory, at some point the winner has declared that his victory represents a mandate. It doesn’t matter if the margin of victory was small, it doesn’t even matter if despite receiving fewer electoral votes, the losing candidate received more popular votes, the winner still declares that their election represents a mandate.

The word mandate is derived from the Latin word mandatum, the same word from which comes the maundy of Maundy Thursday. I have to confess that once upon a time I just thought maundy was kind of a funny word that must mean about the same thing as gloomy so on a morning like this morning with clouds and fog and drizzle you could say, “It’s kind of maundy out there today isn’t it.” That would work wouldn’t it? That would make sense, to me anyway, and the atmosphere around Maundy Thursday and what it commemorates is kind of gloomy. But no; while maundy as gloomy makes sense to me, Maundy Thursday is about a mandate.

The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines mandate as an authoritative command. Maundy Thursday then is not about a gloomy Thursday; it is about an authoritative command. Now when politicians use the word mandate, they want us to think that they’ve been given such a command but mostly they just use the word as an excuse to justify whatever it is that they want to do.

Maundy Thursday though is about an authoritative command, an authoritative command from Jesus to us, a mandate…to love one another. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” That sounds nice, but you don’t have to think too hard to figure out that this is a difficult mandate to fulfill. It’s the “Just as I have loved you” part of it that catches us because to love as Jesus loves us means forgiveness for one thing, and it’s forgiveness that doesn’t just forgive but also forgets. “Just as I have loved you” means acceptance and welcome of others despite differences, acceptance despite flaws and failures. To love “just as I have loved you” means putting the needs of others before our own. That kind of love is the mandate and it is the underlying focus of this night.

The depth of that love was demonstrated as Jesus assumed the role of the most menial of servants and washed the feet of his disciples. Ritually we re-enact that foot washing tonight. It’s a ritual that is not well loved however, making most of us uncomfortable as it does. I was thinking that if Jesus had washed the disciples’ hands, that would be different; I’ll bet more of you would come forward for hand washing. But feet…feet we just as soon keep hidden under shoes and socks knowing that we’re not very old when our feet stop being cute.

So…as prospective wash-ees, you’re uncomfortable; like Peter you pretty much say “No way. This isn’t happening.” As the wash-er, I’m uncomfortable thinking “I went to seminary for this?” but I think that’s the point. It’s perhaps an example of what these days is called “tough love” and it is that kind of love that Jesus models for us. Even at our worst, we are loved by Jesus, all the way down to our feet and that’s the challenge, that’s the mandate that he puts out there.

The depth of Jesus’ love was further revealed as he emptied himself of divine power and authority on that gloomy Thursday and submitted to his arrest and trial. We will ritually experience that aspect of his love, that emptying at the end of tonight as the altar and sanctuary are stripped of the usual cloths and paraments along with candles and other ornamentation so the church is left bare, emptied. It’s quite moving, perhaps even a little disturbing but remember that Jesus’ love for us is at the center of this emptying.

The events that are remembered and re-enacted tonight, washing the disciples’ feet, celebrating the Last Supper and submitting to arrest all happened the night before Jesus was crucified. We can’t know for sure if Jesus knew for sure exactly what was going to happen the next day but he had to have known that something was going to happen and one something that might happen was death by crucifixion. It was well known that King Herod and the other minions running the show for the Roman Empire were ruthless in their execution of anyone perceived as a threat to peace and good order and Jesus was perceived as such a threat. With that, what might have been running through Jesus’ mind as he gathered with his disciples was that he had one last chance to get across to them what he thought was most important.

The first of those things was the commandment, the mandate to love one another. The kingdom he spoke about and envisioned wasn’t and isn’t based on a me first accumulation of wealth and power. It’s based on love and care and service for others, even when they’re not very likeable. It’s love and care and service that calls us to look in the mirror and realize that we’re not always very likeable either. What was important to Jesus on this night was to demonstrate to his followers the depth of his love so that they could participate in sharing that love with others.

What Jesus also knew was important was that there be a way for his followers to experience his presence with them forever, not just as a memory and not just as a spiritual presence, but in a tangible way. So he shared a loaf of bread with them and said, “This is my body.” He shared a cup of wine and said, “This is my blood,” and he said, “For you,” and he said, “Do this,” and they did. From the beginning, the celebration of this simple meal was at the center of Christian worship and from the beginning, as people gathered in Jesus’ name and repeated the words he gave them, as they shared the bread and wine, in faith, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they experienced Jesus’ presence as he knew they would.

Jesus knew the power of symbol and ritual, he knew the power of this ritual that he instituted on this night. He knew that it could change their sense of reality and reveal his continuing presence with them and with all who came after them. So we continue what has been handed on to us not just tonight but pretty much every time we gather and we leave strengthened by Jesus’ real presence, yet another expression of his love.

On this night, Jesus did share what was most important to him; along with Jesus’ first disciples, we are given a command, a mandate to love one another as he loves us. He gives us the command and…at the same time…he fulfills the command…for us. Our response is still important as an expression of love of God and love of our neighbor, but we respond with confident faith knowing that Jesus’ love has us covered.

In the ritual of Holy Communion we are then given a tangible expression of Jesus’ love and presence so that we know we’re never alone in our efforts to fulfill the mandate. Jesus is there supporting us, loving us and forgiving us with the same love that he commands us to share. It’s love that shines through the gloom, even on Maundy Thursday.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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