Dan has a good post on the meaning of Maundy Thursday, in particular as regards the sheer doltishness of the disciples – a doltishness we share – in needing to be commanded to love one another, after all that Jesus was doing and has done for us.
However, I wonder if Dan is right to place the mandatum, the command, of Maundy Thursday on the “law” side of the law and gospel distinction.
What is it, after all, that makes Jesus’ command “that you love one another” new? As Jesus had pointed out during his ministry, the command to love our neighbour was a fundamental teaching of the Old Testament.
If it’s not the content that’s new, therefore, then it must be the function of Jesus’ command that is new. The church recognises what is new about Jesus’ command when it reads Jeremiah 31:31-34 on Maundy Thursday, in particular verse 33:
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Part of the promise of the gospel is that we find the law written on our hearts – no longer an external word of condemnation, but the (super)natural desire of the new self, of faith, to act in love towards God and neighbour.
This is what is new about Jesus’ command: it no longer belongs to the economy of law, of “do this and you will live”, but to the economy of the gospel: “you will do this, often without even realising it, because you have already been made alive through the death and resurrection of Jesus to which you are united in your baptism”.
Maundy Thursday: it’s gospel, not law.