Thursday, April 21, 2011

In the trenches

Thursday.  Maundy Thursday, if you like.  A quick check of Wikipedia reveals that the name Maundy, which I've been known to bandy about since being a Presbyterian without actually knowing its etymology, is derived, via various old languages (English and French) from the Latin word mandatum, from the mandate Jesus gave to His disciples in John 13: 34, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you."  This mandate was part of the long discourse Jesus gave during the rather leisurely (they were reclining, after all) but tense ("Is it me, Lord?") and mysterious ("This is my body...this is my blood"), last dinner they all shared together somewhere in Jerusalem on this holiest of Thursdays.  Maundy Thursday--Mandate Thursday.  And I have to admit, in that discourse in John, there isn't just one, but 27,000 mandates.  Well, perhaps I exaggerate.  However many there actually are, they do all come down to the one that becomes the moniker for this day.  "Love one another, as I have loved you."

And they come down to it, of course, because the God-head knew that this is where we most often fail as human beings.  Well, after failing to recognize Him as Lord, or even recognize Him at all.  But between each other, we make a total hash of this whole loving as He loves us.  As I sit here, trying to think of an example or two, I'm so overwhelmed by our failure to love each other, I can barely write.  With our spouses, our children, our bosses, our employees, our neighbors, our friends, our parents, our siblings, our enemies, our...well, let's be honest, every war has been waged because, in one way or another, someone hasn't been loving others has God has loved us.  That is, either a tyrant hasn't loved his/her (but why do I say her--have there been female dictators and demagogues in the world?) subjects and the people rebel, or another nation (or coalition) steps in to free them. Or one leader and/or country tries to overthrow another to gain control of people or land.  But there is always selfishness at the heart of war, one way or another...at least from my simplistic point of view. ( J, who knows more, would have a more in-depth argument.)

It stops me cold to think that Jesus' great commandment was a mandate at which He knew we'd fail.  He knew on Mandate Thursday what all of history would reveal--that we are not very successful at loving as He loves us.  Oh, now and then one of us steps in front of a bus for a stranger.  And most of us parents can imagine laying down our lives for our children, would it come to that.  And soldiers go to war, knowing they might be the ones to die for their countries.  And still they do it, amazingly enough.  Sometimes reluctantly, but more often with resolve and pride and a certainty of purpose.  I may not understand it and I admit I don't always agree with the policies that make it necessary, but I do admire their willingness to do what they do at so great a cost.  For the most part, though, what Jesus is talking about is our daily--nay, hourly--interactions with each other.  Our willingness to walk down the hall and get a glass of water for our spouse or to take out the recycling so he doesn't have to after a long day, even though it's his job, after all.  It's what we do in the trenches of life that say more about how we're living out this commandment than what one does in the trenches of war.

But most of us fail in the trenches of life, and Jesus knew it would be so.  As the words were coming out of His mouth, He knew it.  The long discourse in John is jam-packed with things that can terrify me if I really take Him at His word, which I know I must.

 From John 13-17--
"All who have faith in me will do the works I have done and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  I will do whatever you ask in my Name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me anything in my Name and I will do it."
"If you love me, keep my commands...whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me."
"Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.  Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching."
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
"If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned."
"If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask me whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father's glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."
"My commandment is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command."
"This is my command: Love each other."
"When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father--the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father--He will testify about me.  And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning."
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

But even as these mandates look impossible, tucked between are two very important, specific promises, that we overlook to our everlasting peril.
First, the promise of Friday.  That's right.  Yes, right in the middle of these commandments, given on the last day before the final solution, to co-opt a phrase in the best possible sense, is the hope of what tomorrow brings.  While these men (and women) listen to his words, overwhelmed with their own sin and inability to do what He bids them do, He is already rolling up His sleeves for the one thing He put on bone, muscle and flesh to do--to die.  The cross lay before Him this night, the shadow of it right on His face as He gave this mandate to love..."As I have loved you."  The love He had for us took Him to the cross (and back, of course, but that's another day's story), and makes it possible for us to be saved from our failure to do the very things He bids us do.  Saved from, forgiven for, and...
Aided in doing.  Because this is the other promise, the ongoing and life-long promise contained in this long discourse.  Jesus, the Christ, the Second Person of the Godhead, promises that the Third Person of the Godhead will come, aid and abet us, so to speak, in living up to these commands.  The Spirit will dwell in the trenches of life with us.  Right in the muckiest trench that is our own sorry heart.  We couldn't live up to these commands on our own.  No way, no how.  And that was the whole point--we DON'T have to...He made all the provisions for us.  It was His last opportunity to speak them before He died because we couldn't  obey them.  After the cross, with the Holy Spirit enabling us, it was--it is--a whole new story.

I continue to fail at them.  But, with Him, I also continue to succeed.  When I ask--and am given--Holy-Spirit assistance to do more than I could ever do and be on my own.  I shudder to think of how selfish I'd be without Him.  No, I have to turn away from that image.  It's the stuff of nightmares to consider.  He makes me more than I could be on my own.  And more each day--better, more obedient, more like Him--than I can dream of being.  Loving those He's given me to love.
Maundy Thursday--the day of commandments.  "Love one another...as I have loved you."

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

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