The gospel of Maundy Thursday

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.

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7 Responses to The gospel of Maundy Thursday

  1. What would you say to a Christian who wants to love his neighbor but can’t manage to do it? More abstractly- if God put the Law in our hearts, why do we still have to preach the Law?

  2. John H says:

    Jacob: I think the answer to the second is because we remain a mixture of the old Adam and the new self in Christ. Jeremiah (and Jesus’ new command) are speaking of/to the new self.

    And the answer to the first is related: return to your baptism, drown the old Adam there, and keep looking to Christ rather than introspecting about whether you really love your neighbour, etc.

  3. Rick Ritchie says:

    Edmund Schlink gives special attention to questions like this in his book “The Theology of the Lutheran Confessions.” He has two chapters on Law and Gospel. The Law and Gospel Part Two chapter is where he deals with the question of how the divide works for the regenerate. It was one of the best things I ever read.

    Here are a couple key quotes:

    “In presenting the wealth of the effects of divine grace in regeneration and the new obedience, the status of man is again called into question.”

    “Since the regenerate man and his new obedience in this age remain imperfect, the regenerated man is not only in the law, but also under the law. There, however, he sees all his works as sin.”

    It may be good news that we will love one another as he loved us. But the bad news is that we often fail at this. In fact, the gospel here makes the law all the more terrible. See the warning of Hebrews 10:28-31 as an example of how a sin against Christ is worse than a sin against Moses. These threats are only as bad as they are in light of the Gospel.

    Peter says that when we lack good qualities it is because we have forgotten the Gospel (2 Peter 1:9). Our guys have long said that unbelief is reproved by the Law and not by the Gospel. So insofar as the mandate contains reproof, it is Law.

  4. John: Thank you! Those very helpful answers.

  5. Mark Nikirk says:

    Excellent! Thanks for the encouraging post.

  6. Paul Siems says:

    Dear searchers of the Truth,

    John perceives the greater part of the meaning of this “commandment.” Thayer gives a beautiful explanation of this word, in his first definition:


    Thayer Definition:
    1) an order, command, charge, precept, injunction
    1a) that which is prescribed to one by reason of his office

    Consider the context of this prescription that the Lord Jesus gives to His disciples/apostles on the night that He ordained the New Testament for the life of His Church on earth.

    This is entirely Gospel. Jesus is speaking of the office of the ministry, which the disciples are to administer to one another and to all whom the Lord will call through them. First Jesus concludes the Old Testament with the observance of the Passover. Then He washes their feet, telling them that what He is doing for them, they are to do for one another, that is, wash away their daily dirt from their daily journeying. Then He sends Judas away to do his work of perdition, since Judas still did not repent even when confronted openly before all. Then He establishes the Supper of His Holy Communion and forgiveness through the cup of His blood. Then He tells them that where He is going they cannot follow and so He gives this new commandment concerning forgiveness and love. He already said it with the words of consecration, saying, “This Do.” Here he repeats it, even calling it a commandment.

    The answer to Jacob’s question is that we cannot love one another apart from the pure administration of the means of grace. Continuing where these means are in any way compromised, is the opposite of love. It is to bring judgment upon oneself and one another. The effect is that everyone becomes Judas and faces perdition. The Gospel is received as Law when we hear it as what we must do rather than what God does for us.

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