I grew up in church, so most of the church lingo is familiar to me. However, until recently, I had no idea what the word “Maundy” meant. Especially in regards to Holy week.
Let’s take a look.
The origin of the word has a couple of possibilities: mandé from the Latin mandatum “command” or mendicare (Latin), mendier (French), and maund (English). The English maund means “to beg” or a “small basket” held out by maunders (beggars) as they maunded (begged).
Typically, the term comes from Jesus’ words in John 13:34, “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.”
Now, let’s look at John 13 a little more closely to see what got us here.
- Palm Sunday had already happened (John 12:12-15)
- Prior to this commandment, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-20)
- He announces that one disciple will betray him (John 13:21-30)
- He gives a new commandment (John 13:31-35)
- And he foretells Peter’s denial (John 13:36-38)
Nestled in the middle of all of this is Jesus’ commandment, his mandatum. Many traditions link the commandment to love one another and Maundy Thursday with the foot washing Jesus did.
Can you imagine? Think with me for a minute. You wear sandals a majority of the time (that’s some of you anyways!). It’s pretty hot where you live. It’s very dusty where you live. You walk almost exclusively to get anywhere you need to go. The toenail clipper hasn’t been invented yet, nor has the toenail polish. Water is needed for giving to animals (let’s be real – you drink wine), and occasionally for bathing. Occasionally. But if you pour water over your head, the last thing to be cleaned is, you guessed it – your feet.
And the Savior of the world, the man who they’ve been following for three years, probably daily, kneels down to wash their feet. Obviously, it would have been shocking. Feet washing is a humble act. One of deep hospitality, usually reserved for the lowliest of servants. I think Jesus was saying to his disciples, “Before I go to the cross, I want to serve you in a way none of you could imagine.”
Little did the disciples know that Jesus’ washing of their feet wouldn’t be the only way he served them – a mere 24 hours later, he would be tried for crimes he didn’t commit, and nailed to a Roman torture device.
Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet, and his ensuing mandatum to love one another go hand in hand. They are at the heart of Easter.
He served us in a way none of us could imagine: by going to the cross.
He loved us in a way none of us could imagine: by taking God’s wrath on our behalf.
The Son of Man came to serve.
The Son of Man came to love.
The Son of Man came to save.
I think our call this Maundy Thursday is to rest in the work that’s already been finished. It isn’t to do more. As we look toward the face of Jesus and we get to know him more, we will be more like him. And in an act of total submission to him, we can go on mission to love the people around us. But first, we rest in who he is and what he has already done for us.
As we think on holy week, we can rest in the fact that Jesus already did the work. He already washed our feet. He served us. He loved us. He saved us.