John 13:34-35 – I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (NRSV)
One of the joys of my job as a dictionary editor is that I have the opportunity to learn many interesting tidbits about the language we speak. Some of these are merely entertaining; others teach me something about my life or my faith. A couple of years ago I came across the etymology of the word "Maundy", as in "Maundy Thursday", and since then I have seen this Thursday before Easter in a new way.
The English word "Maundy" dates back to the fifteenth century. It comes to us from an Old French word, which is in turn derived from the Latin word mandatum, meaning "commandment". (Our word "mandate" comes from this same Latin word.) This is the word used in John 13:34 in the Latin translation of the Bible.
John's account of the night of the Last Supper includes a long discourse by Jesus to the disciples. There are many interesting and valuable thoughts in this portion of John's Gospel. But centuries ago the church realized that the most important point in what Jesus said to his disciples that night was that they should love each other as he had loved them. This verse gave this day the name by which many Christians still know it.
So Maundy Thursday, or "Commandment Thursday", could also be called "Love Thursday". Today is all about love. It is about the love of a Saviour for his people, the people whom he has come to save, and the people for whom he will go to the cross. It is also about our love for one another. One of the last things Jesus told his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion was that they should love one another as he had loved them. By this the world would know that they belonged to Jesus.
On Maundy Thursday, we can pause to reflect on the love of Jesus for us, and on our love for one another. Do we show the world around us that we are Christians by loving each other as Jesus loved us? Do we love one another as Jesus loved us? Personally, I think I can still learn a lot about love by reading Jesus' words and following his example.
Prayer: God of love, you sent your Son to show us how to love one another. As we prepare to commemorate his death and resurrection, grant that we might come to love one another as Jesus loved us. Amen.