“Little children, I am with you only a little longer. Where I am going, you cannot come. 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.” – John 13:33-35
If you knew that you were about to die, and you had a chance to gather your friends around you one last time, what would you say?
On the last night of his life, Jesus had that chance.
His disciples surrounded him at the dinner table, and he tried one last time to communicate what he was all about. He could have said anything. He could have told them to judge the ones who didn’t believe the way they did. He could have told them to avenge his death. He could have raged about the unfairness of life.
But he didn’t.
Instead he said, “Love one another, because that’s how everyone will know that you really love me.” This was the last thing he wanted them to know, and it was the most important.
The literal meaning of today, Maundy Thursday, comes from the word “mandatum” or “mandate.”
Christ’s mandate to us in the final hours of his life was to love. This is a command, and it is not optional.
Unfortunately, Christ’s marching orders are incredibly hard to follow. Every day I get it wrong. You might too. But every day, I try again.
The good news is this: as many times as I mess up on those dinner-time orders from Jesus, I keep finding that he has saved a place for me at the next meal. Again and again I find my way to his table, and again and again I try to get it right.
God, help me to keep this one commandment well today, and help me to come back to the table, and try again, no matter what.
Emily C. Heath is the Senior Pastor of The Congregational Church in Exeter (New Hampshire) and the author most recently of Courageous Faith: How to Rise and Resist in a Time of Fear.