Gathered with his disciples for the Passover meal, "Jesus knew his hour had come to depart from this world. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end (John 13:1). "To the end," translated from the Greek, eis telos, means completely, all the way to the end.
Upon kneeling to wash the feet of the disciples and serving the communion meal of bread and wine, Jesus says these words: Abide with me, as I abide with you (John 15:4).
Then Jesus gives a new commandment: Mandatum Novum, from which the odd name for this day originates. Mandatum, Latin for command, shares the same root with the English word: mandatory, its more ancient form, maundy. So Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus’ final teaching: “A new commandment that I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
“…As I have loved you.” How has Jesus loved his disciples? He knelt before them. He served them. He trusted them. He loved them unconditionally. He loved them to the end. Jesus bent down before the one who will hand him over to the priests. Jesus washed away the dirt on this disciple’s feet with unjust love, the same feet that will walk away betraying the teacher whom he had followed for three years. Jesus shared his life and poured out his love for all of the disciples whose once fervent faith would collapse in a moment’s notice of fear.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. God’s love for us is known that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The new commandment given on this night is that we love one another with this kind of humble, unjust, abiding love. It is an impossible measure of love for us to receive, for us to comprehend, certainly an impossible measure for us to imitate. Yet, this is the love of God.
To be open to the eternal embrace of God's love is to be open to all of the fractures, confusions, and pains of this world that are held in God’s embrace. The least among us and the worst among us are held in this same embrace. And we are called to embrace one another, even as we find ourselves as ones needing to receive such embrace, at times as the most needful of all.
Held in the eternal embrace of God, we remember Christ’s invitation: Abide with me, as I abide with you.
May we be found abiding with Christ as he makes the way to the cross to pour his love for the world. For the least and for the worst among us. For the suffering. For the loving. For the repentant. For the sinner. For the dying. For the believing. For the hoping.
For you. For me.