This got me to thinking about words I use in church, especially at this time of year, that are not real words to some of us and certainly not to the rest of the world.
Today in the church world, it’s “Maundy Thursday.” This phrase refers to the last night of Jesus’ life, in the gospels a Thursday, and on that night Jesus does many things we remember. At the beginning of the last supper in the gospel of John, Jesus, says this to the disciples, “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you. You love one another. The key words here are “new command.”
The original Greek of the New Testament was first translated into Latin. In Latin this phrase “New Command” comes out “Novum Mandatum.” From there it is easy to figure out how we non-Latin speakers started to say “Maundy Thursday.”
Perhaps we should start saying it’s “New Command Thursday.” But even that doesn’t make much sense until you remember that the new command is to love as Jesus loved. And so perhaps it really comes out “Love Thursday.” Which, when you put it into the context of also being “last Thursday alive” for Jesus, makes it a bit more compelling, even for the most irreligious among us.
The next word or phrase that I’ve always felt odd using is “Good Friday.” We’ll have a service tomorrow on Good Friday. At the service we will recall the seven last words Jesus spoke while dying on the cross. So what is so “good” about Jesus dying on the cross?
The answers I’ve been given often fall short because they rely so much on being a part of the in-crowd at church to make much sense. If you believe the life story of Jesus…that he turns the world upside down….that his sense of service to others is where his power abides…that his willingness to accept and love the most unacceptable, unlovable, the lowest people on the face of the planet is what makes us look up to him… then maybe you get why his suffering and death is a “good” thing that happens on a Friday. Still it should be “Death Friday” or “Suffering Friday” to be clear about the story.
I really don’t have a better explanation to give, other than I believe that suffering or taking risks on behalf of others, even to the point of dying, can indeed be redemptive, that it can be a way to discover a deeper, better part of ourselves. This isn’t always true, however; our world has a lot of people who are suffering and even dying for things I’m not so sure would fit the “novum mandatum” Jesus gave us to love. I suppose we need to “conversate” about that more.
It’s an old trick to take a word or phase that someone else is familiar with and put it in a different context for your own purposes. This is what we have done with the word we use to refer to the day of the resurrection of Jesus, “Easter.” Easter comes from old English and Germanic words for “east” where the sun comes from every day and also refers to a goddess of spring. Spring amazingly, every single year, brings with it new life…just as amazingly every single time, in every single life, God
provides meaning and an eternal purpose.
This week: Choose to love in your life. Remember that challenges, even suffering, can bring out the best we were created to be and finally hope that death is not the final word of our existence.
Keep the Faith,