This week's reading tells us in clear, compelling words where the Christian life begins and ends, where the church finds its purpose. It’s not with condemnation; it’s with love. It’s a commandment from Christ. It’s a gift, and it is new. What an interesting collection of descriptors.
The people in an Ohio county were angry with the area’s red foxes because they had eaten some of the people’s domestic chickens and many of the wild quail. So 600 men, women and children formed a circle five miles across, walked through the woods and frightened the foxes out into the open by shouting. Inside of a shrinking circle the foxes ran about in panic, exhausting themselves.
Vermont artist Jerry Geier’s sculptures often feature commonplace moments and ordinary people. Even the material he uses—terra-cotta—reflects the most common of elements, earth. In this representation of the Last Supper, in which Jesus’ back is to the viewer, Geier captures a moment of companionable humor. Trust and appreciation are on the faces of the disciples. But clearly something else is also going on. Arms stretched as though in embrace and blessing, Jesus is the one who faces the window, the curtains blowing. “The window shows a breeze, which I see as a symbolic breath of fresh air, new life, perhaps the Holy Spirit flowing in,” Geier writes. “It all takes place in a modest little house of some kind, with wooden floors and simple walls.”
Apparently the term “Maundy Thursday” comes from the Latin phrase “mandatum novum” meaning “new commandment.” The reference is to John 13, which features the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, followed by his statement about a new commandment he has given them, to love one another.
We actually reached this passage in my class on the Gospel of John yesterday, and had an interesting discussion about whether this commandment is “new,” and if so, in what sense.