Love one another.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
The words of Jesus from which we take the name and charge of Maundy Thursday (via the Latin mandatum for commandment) are simple and profound: we are called to love one another as we have been loved by God.
When my girls were small, they called this day Laundry Thursday, which became something of a recurring joke in our house. Another year, another question: “Is that the day we wash feet and bob for apples?”
I dearly hope not. Bobbing for apples is a questionable enough activity from a communicable disease standpoint well before anyone puts their feet in the water.
And yet I like the pairing of everyday acts of service (which reminds me, I left wet clothes in the washer) and the happy, fair-like activity, reminiscent of a simpler time. The harvest is in! What silly things should we play together to celebrate?
There’s something there that feels like an invitation.
The world is heavy with sorrow right now, with the horrid atrocities in Ukraine coming to light as refugees from Afghanistan and asylum seekers from southern points still long for safe haven from the harms and disorder they flee. This is not a season that requires take much imagination to ponder Jesus’s suffering on the cross. It’s playing out in the lives of families everywhere, desperate for peace and a world in which simpler joys are possible.
Closer to home, many families I know are navigating the choppy waters of relationships that change as children move through adolescence, and part of the unsteadiness is due to the strains of pandemic that we’ve carried these last years. A friend’s encouragement rings in my ears often; she’s a grandparent now, a couple of decades ahead of me along the parenting road. “It doesn’t get easier,” she says, “it just gets different.” It’s the perfect companion for “this too shall pass” as it reminds us that another “this” will take its place.
Parents and children are forever in a dance of navigating relational gives and takes, but now we’re all doing it with the stretched bandwidth and life disruptions that have happened in the Covid era. Raise your hand if you’ve been living your Best Parent Life. Anyone? No? Yeah, not over here either.
What stands out to me as I encounter the story of Maundy Thursday this year is that Jesus does not give the command for us to love one another from a safe, aseptic position. He’s just been on the floor with the water and dust and grime of the people he is in relationship with, and that’s how he returns to the table. Love one another like this, he says, as you have been loved.
I was moved to learn of the strollers lined up at train stations in Poland to greet Ukrainian families fleeing from the violent wreckage of war. I wonder how many of those strollers were once gifts to Polish mothers and fathers, showered on them in celebratory anticipation of a baby’s arrival. And these parents, having been loved in an hour of simpler need, knew how to offer love when another’s tender need arose.
Loving one another is going to be messy. We’re going to be cherishing and honoring even the parts of others that give offense, aren’t pleasant to encounter, are part of how they get by day to day in this world. It might seem like we wash the same part again and again and again; and then there will be a different part. Not easier, but different.
Jesus invites us to find in ourselves those same elements — we are able to love others with generosity, understanding, and compassion because we trust that Jesus loves and tends those difficult parts of us as well. We are able to love others in these ways because Jesus has first loved us—a truth we can savor and rejoice in.
Here again is the pairing of service and celebration, always in relationship, each one possible because of the other.
[Image Credit: Swanson, John August. Washing of the Feet, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.]