Thursday during Holy Week is called “Maundy Thursday”, yet the events of this day, and the teachings of Christ given during this time, are more celebrated, more important, and more profound than any other aspect of Christian doctrine. Years ago, I had the chance to attend the evening Mass at Notre Dame in Paris on Maundy Thursday – it was an experience I will never forget.
This is the day of the Last Supper, where Christ instituted the Sacrament, the Holy Communion, the Eucharist. Knowing that He was about to be crucified, Jesus taught his most important teachings to his disciples. While it is true we recognize Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection as the three most common dates in Christ’s life, we often overlook that the Atonement’s pivotal events: the Sacrament, the Washing of Feet, the promise of the Comforter, the intercessory prayer of Atonement, and the suffering in the Garden of Gethsamane – all these events transpire on Thursday of Holy Week.
Yet there is one more event that names the day. Jesus said:
John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
The words for “new commandment” in Latin are “Mandatum Novum”, and thus, the defining teaching of the day, that which makes the day “Maundy Thursday”, is a “New Commandment”, that we love one another *as* Jesus has loved us.
Putting it into perspective, the terms “substitution”, “satisfaction”, “reconcile”, “punish”, or “ransom” do not appear in any of Christ’s teachings at the Last Supper, but the term “love” is mentioned thirty four times.
To be clear, the commandment to love is not new. When asked what the Great commandment was, Jesus answered, “Hear oh Israel, The Lord our God is ONE, and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, might, mind and strength; and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Upon these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Jesus also commanded us to be “perfect”/”teleios” in our love in the same way our Father in Heaven is “perfect” in His love. This kind of perfection is not flawlessness as so many misinterpret. It is to unconditionally love god and our neighbor, and that this love is the basis, essence, of all other commandments, laws, policies, guidelines, words of wisdom, and spiritual advice given in the Law (the Torah), and the Prophets (the writings of scripture).
So, the commandment to love is the very essence of all God wants us to do. Love is the Great Commandment. Love is the First Commandment. Love is the Second Commandment, and Love is the basis of all. Yet today, this “Maundy Thursday”, Jesus gives us a “New Commandment” to love one another as he has loved us. And given that this is now the last of Jesus’ teachings before he is to be crucified, we can consider it his Last Commandment in the flesh.
So, then, how is this New Commandment in any way “new”? Honestly, I don’t really know, and not knowing, I cannot hazard a guess. Perhaps there is something that we can find in this that goes beyond the words.
So, in my mind, I enter the upper room as a disciple out of time. I imagine myself walking into the room, the door closing behind me. It’s a sacred space, the disciples gathered here are not just the apostles, but Mary Magdalene is here, Mary and Martha from Bethany, and Lazarus. Jesus mother, Mary, is also here. The air is filled with expectation, tinged with a bit of fear and sorrow. I’m not sure what to think, the emotions of exultation on Sunday have become confused as the events of the week have gone on.
A few moments ago, Jesus washed our feet, lowering himself as a slave. It was awkward at first, Peter making such a scene, but after Jesus explained his meaning, I now understand so much more about who Jesus is, and what he expects of me. I felt self-doubt as Jesus said that one of us will betray him, and for reasons I don’t really know, Judas Iscariot left the room. Now, the air in the room as become filled with anticipation and…love.
And as the Spirit fills the room, Jesus stands in the glory of god, and gives us a new commandment, to love one another, as he has loved us. Tears stream down my face, as I realize that my love, before now, has been directed toward the savior alone. I have not loved myself – indeed, I hate myself, and I reflect that hate in how I project my fears and biases on others. I have not loved others, because I am incapable of realizing any love for my sinful self. Yet, I have not realized Jesus love for me is a gift, a package I have not yet opened.
A new commandment. To love…AS HE has LOVED me. In a moment, this moment, I realize the failings in my love for others occur because I fail to open the gift of Jesus’ love.
In my tears, I look up and my eyes meet Jesus’ eyes. His words pierce my soul: “Let not your heart be troubled; you have faith in God, have faith also in me. Wither I go, you know, and the Way you know.
Thomas speaks what my heart cries out, “How can we know the Way?”
Jesus answered, “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
Nine words. All that Jesus taught us, encompassed in nine words. I AM, JHWH, the very god of Israel, of all creation. The Way – the very power of God expressed through the laws of nature and how we are to act in harmony with God. Truth – knowledge of things as they are, as they were, and as they are to come. Life – the essence of our rebirth in Christ, to have life in abundance. In these nine words, I realize the Christ in all that is, all that connects us to each other and to God. The atonement becomes the abundant life made only possible by the connecting power of these words and events. I am ONE!
Philip, realizing that behind Jesus’ words, he equated himself to god by invoking the sacred Name JHWH. In reply, Jesus chides him gently as he explains the Atonement:
John 14:9-11 “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me”
Jesus is One with God the Father. No, Jesus is not a look-alike, as is so often portrayed in LDS art. No, Jesus is not the incarnation of God the Father as is stated in the Book of Mormon. Jesus is fully man, yet, in his realization of the God within him, he teaches Philip that God is not to be found “out there” as the “other”, but rather, as “in here”, One with us. Immanuel is “God with Us”. Jesus, Immanuel, marks the path and leads the Way, and every point defines to light, and life, and endless day, where God’s full presence shines.
The room is now silent for a moment, as Jesus’ words, his teachings of the Oneness of God the Father, Himself, and now us, sink deeply into our souls. Something connects us – yes, this atonement is to be connected to the vine, to Jesus, to God, but the connecting power, the balm that heals, the grace that saves us…is Love.
Breaking the silence, Jesus repeats, softly, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”
My confusion begins to melt about his meaning. I heard him say this so many times in my life. Over and over again, “Keep the commandments!” “Follow the Prophet!”. And in my despair, I asked, before, which commandments? And the answer was always “all of them”, as I drilled myself into insanity trying to be perfect in my never-possible flawnessness, and falling short, indulging into a shame-filled orgy of self-hatred.
My eyes, still connected with Jesus’ loving gaze, tear up again as I realize his words into the depths of my soul. With saying anything out loud, his still, small voice pierces my heart: “Keep my commandment, my new commandment that I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you. I love you, Mark, with all my heart, might, mind and strength, why can you not love yourself and our other brothers and sisters? I am here for you, always. I will not leave you comfortless, I will come unto you, yet again, and your heart will be joyful.” I sob uncontrollably when his words, “I love you Mark” are spoken in my mother’s voice, the last words she spoke to me in this life.
Time pauses, as if the eternity and the now become One.
Jesus, turning to the disciples, says, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Then he explains the New Commandment: “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. *This is my commandment*, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
All my anguish, all the shame associated with trying to measure up to an endless list of commandments, melts away as Jesus explains what “Keep my commandments” actually means. “This is my commandment” – this is IT…in case you need more clarity –“That ye love one another, as I have loved you.”
Jesus smiles as we realize the sublime simplicity of his commandments, the essence of the Gospel, and the entire meaning of the Atonement. He speaks again, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” And if we weren’t clear on whatsoever he commands us, “These things I command you, that ye love one another.”
As my contemplative encounter in the upper room closes, I hear Jesus say in my mind, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”