Thursday, April 09, 2009

Maundy Thursday - Greater Love!

Many churches and denominations observe Maundy Thursday, holding special services commemorating the evening and night before the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, during which time he shared his last meal with his disciples, at least until after the Resurrection, and engaged in his apparently night-long prayer in the Garden Of Gethsemane, in the answer to which he discovered that the crucifixion was inevitable – God’s plan for the redemption of all people, and to which he acceded, knowing the full implications of being nailed to a Roman cross.

Among the first prophecies concerning Christ is Isaiah 9:6, wherein is noted that the child to come, among other appellations, would be called the “Prince of Peace.” The Old Testament accounts preceding Isaiah’s words and from that time forward are filled with descriptions of wars, atrocities, death, and destruction – even the carrying away of defeated peoples into slavery. It was into this same kind of Middle East turmoil that Christ was born, not into a milieu of freedom, but into slavery under the Romans, who ruled that part of the world with an iron fist – just as the Jihad-Muslims are trying to do now – and would later engage brutal crucifixion in ending Christ’s life.

In the very poignant framework of the “Last Supper,” according to Luke 22:36, Christ made it plain to the disciples that they were to secure swords for themselves, even if they had to sell some of their clothing to do so. He emphasized his instruction by comparing it to the one he gave them at an earlier time when he sent them out in an evangelistic endeavor and told them to take neither purse, bag, nor sandals, but that now they were to take those things…with the addition of a sword.

Christ spoke of peace, but perhaps in some ways that were/are quite surprising. For instance, in Matthew 10:34 Christ stated flatly that he had come not to bring peace to the world…but a sword. He intended to participate in some kind of mayhem himself, whether verbal or physical. In Matthew 24:6, Christ stated just as flatly that wars were inevitable and that his followers would suffer, be hated, and even be put to death in the midst of wars.

Soon after giving that admonition, Christ made it plain that those who live by the sword (aggressors such as today’s Islamic jihad-mongers, killers of women and children, or the Hitler Wehrmacht of the 1930s-40s, killers of 11 million civilians) would die by the sword, so he meant for his disciples to merely defend themselves and their families. Christ expected their lives to lack peace, even as his did, as remarked in John 7:1, where John explains that the Jews were in Judea to kill Jesus, so, rather than going to the Feast of Tabernacles publicly with his brothers, Jesus went in secret. He was a hunted man.

The peace that matters, however, was/is the peace of which Jesus spoke as recorded in John 14:27 (NIV): “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Tangible peace (that of the world), most often just the absence of war, is transitory. This isn’t the peace of which Jesus spoke. This isn’t the peace that he knew. His peace is realized within the soul of the believer and will be extant there no matter the earthly circumstances.

On at least one occasion, Christ, after fashioning his own whip, used it to lash the money-changers and physically drive them and their paraphernalia/animals from the temple. In other words, he was defending the Faith. Many theologians/preachers try to whitewash this quite vividly described act, but they fool only themselves. Contrary to how he’s often pictured, Christ was no well-coifed Hollywood-type; instead, he was tough as nails. In his mind, there were/are things worth fighting for, i.e., destroying earthly peace for a higher goal, such as freedom and a superior peace.

Emphasis is always placed on the fact that God/Christ is love, and justifiably so. However, love is also exhibited when, as Jesus would have it, a man lays down his life for others. This kind of Jesus-love was exhibited in the last century, when some 617,000 American GIs, for love of others and country, died in unsought wars, as have nearly 4,900 in this century. God help us if American men, whether Christians or not, should think and act otherwise today.

The apostle John was, of course, at the “Last Supper,” that last meal the evening before the Friday mayhem, that time when Jesus washed the feet of his apostles and thus signified that servant-hood would be the hallmark of belief, sometimes even amounting to the giving of one’s life. John was also the only apostle who stood at the foot of the cross, risking his life thereby since to do so placed him in the condemned company of Christ. This is what he later wrote in quoting Jesus: John 15:13 (NIV): “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Christ, however, laid down his life for even his enemies…for everyone, praying even as he died that his tormentors be forgiven of their wrongdoing. Maundy Thursday!

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

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