“Maundy Thursday” comes from the word for “mandated.” In a moment we’ll know why it is a good title for this day.
After Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, his friend Judas Iscariot leaves to bring the authorities who would arrest him. Jesus knows this, and has every opportunity to flee Jerusalem before they arrive. Instead, he goes to the one place where he knows Judas can find him—a private garden outside the city walls where he often retreated for prayer. This is also so far from the city that the authorities can arrest him without fear of the crowds. And it is at night, where their illegal actions will not be known.
Imagine Jesus praying and waiting in that Garden of Gethsemane as a procession of soldiers begins from the Eastern Gate of the city. He watches their torches as they proceed down into the Kidron Valley and up the Mount of Olives. This would take at least 45 minutes, with Jesus watching them the entire time. The Mount of Olives is covered in trees—he could flee in any direction and not be found. Instead, he waits. When the soldiers finally arrive, his disciples try to defend him, but he refuses. They scatter and leave him to his fate.
He is taken to the Jewish high priest, who can find no witnesses whose testimony can convict him. So he convicts himself, testifying that he is the Son of God and bringing their condemnation for blasphemy. From there he will be led on Good Friday to Pilate and to his death.
Before all of this, however, Jesus does a very strange thing. After the Last Supper, he takes off his outer robe and wraps a slave’s towel around himself. He then crawls on his knees to the first disciple. He takes the man’s dirty, smelly, mud-caked feet in his hands. He pours water over them and dries them with the towel wrapped around his waist. He then crawls to the next, and the next, and the next. He washes the feet of Peter, who would deny him, and Judas, who would betray him, and the other disciples who would abandon him.
Now comes the “mandated” part of Maundy Thursday. Jesus tells them, “What I have done for you, you must do for one another. By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”
Do the people who know you best know that you are Jesus’ disciple?