Today begins the Holy Triduum (three days of prayer beginning with Thursday evening services). Maundy Thursday begins this holy and sacred time. “Maundy” comes from the latin word mandatum from which the English “mandate” is derived. In John 13: 13, Jesus gives his disciples a mandate or new commandment, which is “to love another.” Jesus has washed their feet as a sign of what is often called servant leadership.
The day in most churches is used to remember how Jesus gathered his disciples around a table and asked them to remember him every time they gathered to eat or drink. Many churches hold services of Holy Communion on this night.
Following communion, Jesus goes out and prays and from there he is betrayed by Judas and all the other disciples.
Arrested, and paraded from place to place, Jesus ends up with a death sentence. This hours and days are invitation to ponder Jesus’ life and death, but also to pay attention to our own acts of betrayal, or unfaithfulness and unwillingness to stand against injustice and evil.
In a fun devotion I do during the season of Lent, Lent Madness, playing off of the “March Madness” model, this devotion has “saints” set in competition for the “Golden Halo.” Their stories are shared, and the saints are both biblical, literal saints of the church and some people that could be saints. All have been faithful in different ways. Yesterday the final two saints came down to Florence Nightingale and Franz Jägerstätter. I found Franz’s story compelling, particularly as the end of Holy Week approached.
He was an Austrian who stood up to the Nazi’s. He was the only no vote in his village to the Nazi annexation (and in all of Austria, the annexation was approved by 99.7%.)He was encouraged to take the military oath and serve in the German Army. He refused and was thrown in prison. His village priest came and tried to convince him to change his mind. He refused and was abandoned by his friends, the church turned its back on him. Only his wife stayed by his side until he was beheaded by the Nazis.
Franz was a farmer, not anyone of any power or influence. Yet his faith convinced him that the evil of the Nazis had to be named. He chose a most difficult path. He wrote these words that I find perfect for this Holy, Maundy Thursday:
“God’s love for us human beings is so great that we can never comprehend it with our human understanding. Although we often offend him and even seriously offend him, God still persistently loves us. Otherwise, God would not time and again forgive us. Could you imagine a greater love? … Therefore, love of our neighbors is the greatest act of gratitude that we can show God for his love.”
I pray that I might find the same kind of courage and faith that Franz had. God’s love for us is so great….therefore love of our neighbor is an act of faith and love and grace and courage.