Thursday, April 21, 2011

Our Most Important Commandment

Today is Maundy Thursday, so named because of the mandatum (Latin for commandment) that we receive from Christ:  to love each other.

Most churches will remember this commandment today by offering a communion service.  If I was in charge, I'd include a real meal with that communion service.  If I had plenty of time, I'd offer a version of a Seder meal, which some scholars (supported by at least one Gospel) believe Jesus was eating as his last meal with his disciples.  Eating together is still one of the most common ways we show our love for others, whether we're Christians or not.

In these days of everyone working longer hours, it would be less common for churches to organize works of charitable action or social justice, but that would be in keeping with the commandment and with tradition.  In medieval times, this day was one where beggars could expect to be rewarded.

Some churches will do a foot washing service (for a blog post on foot washing services, go here).  I've only done been part of a foot washing service once.  I felt nervous about it, but I found it meaningful.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus strips and washes the feet of his disciples.  I suspect that most churches don't follow Christ's example for any number of reasons:  needing lots of towels, nervousness about touching, figuring out the water supply, difficulty of clean up.

I suspect that even fewer churches will do anointing with oil, but that seems appropriate too.

The memory that I most associate with this day is the stripping of the altar at the end of the service.  I was always moved by this event, and always surprised by the elegance of the altar, which we usually keep covered with any number of linens.  Some days, I wish we just kept the altar stripped.

So, in whatever ways you observe this day, may you find some moments to retreat from the hubbub of the world, even if only in your head.  May you remember Christ's commandment and may you enjoy a meal with those humans that you love (even if only in your head, from a distance).

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