34Love one another. Just as I have loved you.
The result of these next four days ultimately becomes the hope of the world. But today, just today, I want to try and recover one of the most shocking aspects of this hope.
Today is Maundy Thursday. Jesus issues a “new commandment.”
“Love one another. Just as I have loved you”(John 13:34). He demonstrates this with holy theater, and in doing so, radically reorders the entire narrative structure of life, and the way we tell the story of the Gospel.
Jesus washes the disciple’s feet (gives them a bath) and then breaks bread (feeds them a meal). They don’t get it. They resist it. They reluctantly accept what makes sense only later, after
As Philip Yancy says, “Some stories only make sense in the end.” This is one of them. We can only make sense of Maundy Thursday in reverse, which is what I am doing now. I am retelling this story by the light of the resurrection.
By the light of the resurrection we can see Maundy Thursday, not merely as the moralistic prelude to the main event, but as the cornerstone which makes the next three days possible. By the light of the resurrection, we can see the bath and the meal as an act of forgiveness that precedes the looming darkness. If we see it this way, the Gospel narrative becomes a stunning, wildly liberating, completely free act of grace, played out in full during Holy Week.
Imagine that forgiveness precedes our sin — precedes repentance. Imagine that forgiveness is built into the DNA of creation. Imagine that creation unfolds and comes into being through mercy. Imagine that! If this were true, it would change everything, wouldn’t it? It would change the way we teach, preach and bear witness to the Gospel. If what I am suggesting were true, somebody ought to shout it, show it, celebrate it and live it as if it were true, because it’s life-altering good news. Yes, it messes up the order of things as we see it — repentance first, forgiveness second. But what if Jesus is re-ordering our disordered view of the Gospel? What if we are forgiven so that we can repent and not the other way around?
Try it out this week; think about it in this re-ordered fashion. On Thursday we are forgiven. On Friday we kill God. We are forgiven for what we are about to do. We are forgiven before we do it. Forgiveness is in the beginning, just as Jesus was. Indeed, it is before the beginning. It is how creation unfolds. We are forgiven before we are born. Today, Jesus is giving us a glimpse into the mystery of reality itself. We are forgiven and always have been.
It is by the light of forgiveness that we come to know where things have gone wrong. This will become evident on Resurrection Sunday. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Today Jesus gives us a bath and a meal. We are forgiven!
“Love one another as I have loved you.”