Maundy Thursday

by Jay Jamison

The publication date of this issue of The Source falls on Maundy Thursday, a day of some significance on the Christian calendar. Whereas Good Friday is about the terrible humiliation and execution of a young man from Nazareth, Maundy Thursday is something different. According to, “maundy” comes from the Middle English maunde, from old French mandé, which is traceable to the Latin mandatum, from which we get the word mandate — a command, or an order. Jesus issued his last known commandment on what we now commemorate as Maundy Thursday. The King James Bible translation of John 13:34 is, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” 

Notice the nature of the new commandment. Like many other direct orders, it is unqualified. It is not hypothetical. Jesus isn’t recorded as saying, “If you want the good life, love one another,” or, “If you want favor from God, love one another.” His last commandment commemorated on Maundy Thursday is categorical, with no if-then exceptions. A glance at the Ten Commandments shows the nature of these types of expressions. No qualifications are offered there either. Among the Ten Commandments are some rules of conduct that even non-Jews and non-Christians can accept: Don’t commit murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t bear false witness and don’t steal. These are presented without qualifications. It’s hard to imagine a society succeeding for long where these commandments are routinely violated.

Still, then there’s the Maundy Thursday commandment: Love one another. Adhering to the commonsensical commandments about don’t commit murder, etc. makes sense and they are somewhat easy to follow. The Maundy Thursday commandment is different from these. Notice that many of the commandments taken from the ancient list are prohibitions of some sort of conduct. The Maundy Thursday command, on the other hand, is a positive order to actively change one’s attitude toward others. To adequately comply with this commandment would probably be a life-changing event for most of us. Through the millennia since the new commandment was issued, believers and non-believers alike have shown a poor track record when it comes to living up to the Maundy Thursday commandment.

A glance at today’s headlines attests that this is a difficult order to fill. Many of us fail just getting along with others, let alone coming close to fulfilling the intent of this last commandment. Unlike statements of fact, commandments are neither true nor false. In response to the injunction to love one another, it would be ridiculous to ponder, “Hmmm … I wonder if this is true or false?” It’s not a matter of fact or of knowledge; instead, it is a directive challenging our willingness to either comply or not comply. Commemorating the Last Supper, also celebrated on Maundy Thursday, by partaking in communion is not very difficult. Living up to that last commandment, however; that’s hard.

Like Good Friday, Maundy Thursday is somewhat immune to commercial exploitation. I hope we will never be subjected to advertisements urging us to “Come on down to the Maundy Thursday sale!” I suspect Maundy Thursday has this immunity because, for believers, it commemorates a very serious event and how far we have yet to go, to live up to the Maundy Thursday commandment. Happy Easter.

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