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Sermon – Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday – Jesus’ Commands

Sermon Preached by Reverend Stuart Langshaw on Thursday, 28 March 2024.

Tonight, we begin our thoughts, our meditations for these next four days – and we meet here at St Andrew’s on three of them. We meet today on Maundy Thursday, tomorrow on Good Friday and then on Easter Day. These days take us on quite an emotional roller-coaster ride … from the depths of sorrow … to the heights of celebration … from the nadir of misery to the zenith of rejoicing.

Today is neither the depth nor the height … it is Maundy Thursday. Jesus is with his disciples in the Upper Room. There, by word and by example, he gives them his last teaching.

“Maundy” is a strange word. It’s a very “churchy” word not used outside church circles. It comes from a Latin word, “mandatum,” which means “command.” We get such words as “mandatory” and “mandated” from it. Maundy Thursday, therefore, is “Command Thursday,” when Jesus gave his inner band of 12 followers three commands. We shall do well to recall them tonight.

Jesus’ first commandment on this night was that the disciples should love one another. “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also should love one another. By this will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34, 35). In this new commandment there is no room for status, no room for self-seeking, no room for social ladder climbing. For that was not how Jesus had loved his disciples. Rather, Jesus had loved his disciples selflessly understandingly, sacrificially, forgivingly. Jesus never asked himself what he would gain from the love and loyalty of his friends. His one desire was to give himself and all he had for those he loved. His desire was to do something for them – and in the way that Jesus loved them, he knew that he was to do something that he alone could do.

Listening to Jesus’ words was Judas Iscariot who had already made his arrangement with the authorities to betray Jesus. “Love one another,” Jesus said. How Judas must have squirmed. How Judas must have looked at the floor and ceiling and walls – anywhere but at Jesus. Listening to Jesus’ words was Simon Peter – and in just 24 hours or so time he would deny that he even knew Jesus. No wonder he wept when the cock crowed, and he remembered Jesus had said, “Love one another just as I have loved you.”

Listening to Jesus words again are we … and with our failings and with our failures we hear again this new commandment to love one another selflessly, understandingly, sacrificially, forgivingly … for Jesus says to us again “Love one another … as I have loved you.” Without self at the centre … with understanding through and through that love … sacrificing our own self interests in the interests of the other … and being ready and willing to forgive, and to receive forgiveness.

Jesus’ second commandment on Maundy Thursday night was to serve one another. He did this, not with words, but with actions. He took a bowl of water and a towel, and knelt before each disciple, and washed each disciples’ feet. This was an act of the most humble and gracious service – normally done to honoured guests, normally done by the humblest household servant with the lowest rank. But Jesus, not their servant but their Lord … Jesus, not their inferior but their superior … Jesus knelt humbly before each one … washed and cleansed each one’s feet from the dust of the streets … and dried each one’s feet with the servant’s towel around his waist.

Jesus knelt humbly before Judas Iscariot … treated Judas as an honoured guest … took the role of Judas’ humble servant … and washed Judas’ feet. How Judas must have squirmed. How Judas must have wished he was anywhere but there in the upper room. Judas, knowing what he was about to do to Jesus, must have wanted to say with Peter, “Jesus, don’t wash my feet.” Jesus knelt humbly before Peter … treated Peter as an honoured guest … took the role of Peter’s humble servant … and washed Peter’s feet. And in just 24 hours or so, he would deny that he even knew Jesus. How Peter must have squirmed when a servant-girl … the lowest of the low in a Roman household, pointed out that Peter must be one of Jesus’ followers. For Jesus had served Peter as though Jesus was the lowest of the low in that upper room. Peter wept when the cock crowed, and no wonder, for he remembered Jesus had said, “Wash one another’s feet.”

Listening to Jesus words again are we … and we hear again this commandment to serve one another – to account others as better than we are, to treat others as honoured guests. The company of Jesus’ followers is not the company of rank or privilege. Jesus came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45). Jesus came not to have his feet washed, but to wash others’ feet. And we who follow in his way must follow his example of loving service to others. We who follow in Jesus’ way must do all we can to encourage and affirm and build up others so that their service of others can be the best it can be.

Jesus’ third commandment on Maundy Thursday night was to remember him through an act of common worship. In the Upper Room the disciples had gathered to celebrate Passover – to remember with Jews everywhere what God had done for them in the past through Moses – with Jews everywhere to remember that once they had been slaves, but now they were free – to remember that once they were enslaved in Egypt, but now they were in their own land that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They ate the unleavened bread and drank the 4 cups of wine of the Passover Seder to remember all this.

But Jesus changed the focus of what they were doing, to remember him, and what God was doing for them now through Jesus. Once they had been spiritually enslaved to sin, but now they were spiritually free.

It was all too much for Judas Iscariot. Jesus singled him out for a quiet, personal word, and Judas knew that Jesus knew what Judas had done and what Judas was about to do. John 13:30 says “So after receiving the morsel (of unleavened bread) Judas immediately went out. And it was night.” It was night in the streets. It was night in Judas’ soul.

Ever since that Maundy Thursday night we Christians have remembered what God has done for us in Christ. Ever since that night we break bread and share wine to remember Jesus’ death on the cross, his resurrection, and our salvation. Ever since that night, as the Thanksgiving Prayer in our Communion Service says, “… we do as our Saviour has commanded…”, “ … as Jesus mandated …” for this was his third commandment on Maundy Thursday. In myriad languages, with varying degrees of ceremony, in a great variety of buildings and locations, through a great variety of cultural prisms, the world-wide family of God uses bread and wine – as we do – in remembrance of Jesus and what he has done for us. We obey his third Maundy command.

Maundy Thursday – “Thursday of the three commands” – to love one another – to serve one another – to remember Jesus. Let us follow these new commandments with intent, with meaning and with joy.