The first time I was invited to attend a Maundy Thursday service over 20 years ago, I had no clue what it was. They tried valiantly to explain the significance.
But I had to experience it first-hand to understand the true meaning.
Maundy Thursday, also called Holy Thursday, recalls the events that took place the night Jesus was betrayed in the upper room.
The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke reveal how Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper for the first time. That life-altering table of forgiveness laid out for us.
But the gospel of John focuses on something different.
John hones in on Jesus' final teachings to His disciples -- this band of men who had followed Him, served Him, and witnessed three years of His ministry.
John realized that those who know their remaining time is short choose words carefully to ensure only the essential gets conveyed.
So what were Jesus' instructions that night? "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." John 13:34
Serving Jesus requires love.
The word maundy is derived from the Latin phrase mandatum novum, meaning "new commandment." You and I have been commanded to love. To live in relationship with Him and each other.
But John doesn't simply end his account with men enjoying a meal and hearing Jesus speak. He tells how Jesus dramatically punctuated His words with action.
In a shocking turn of events that almost sent Peter over the edge, Jesus -- God in the flesh -- stooped to wash the disciples' feet.
Jesus "got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 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. ... 'Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.'" John 13:4, 13-16
Serving Jesus requires serving others.
We can opt to serve others from a safe distance by sending money or supplies, but serving to make a kingdom impact as His hands and feet requires us to get in close.
Get our hands dirty.
Do the lowliest job.
That's what foot washing represented in Biblical times. Only the lowest servant was relegated to the task of washing feet encased in sandals and thick desert dust. The job stunk. Literally.
That's where Jesus meets us on Maundy Thursday -- in the middle of our smelly lives.
He washes our feet in love and welcomes us to His table of forgiveness. And as we draw close, we hear Him remind us of His mandatum novum: "Love one another, just as I have loved you."
The heart of Maundy Thursday reflects the heart of God: love.
Love instituted in a meal of forgiveness and redemption.
Love demonstrated by a foot washing, life-giving love.
If you have the opportunity to attend a Maundy Thursday service, don't miss out. It provides a beautiful glimpse into God's everlasting love for us.
How does Jesus' act of love and servant leadership inspire you?
*This blog originally posted on March 26, 2013..