Today we celebrate Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Jesus was crucified on Good Friday. “Maundy” comes from the Latin word for “mandate.” In this case, it refers to Jesus’ commandment in John 13:34:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
The portion of this verse that keeps leaping off the page at me is “as I have loved you.” Before we can fulfill the commandment to love one another, we must have an understanding of how Jesus has loved us.
When you grow up in the church, you are likely to hear many teachings on the commandments of Jesus and the importance of obedience. As small-minded, imperfect, dualistic-thinking humans, we often reduce Christianity to a list of “do’s” and “don’ts.” I think Jesus’ desire for us is much simpler yet more difficult to carry out than what we tend to make it out to be. In Jesus’ statement, I see a commandment to let ourselves experience and know how Jesus has loved us. “Loved” is past tense; His love for us is already given and available before we have done a single thing to deserve it.
When my now-husband and I started dating, we were completely smitten with each other. Sometimes when he would catch my eye, his adoration radiated so intensely from his gaze that it felt like looking into the sun without sunglasses on. After a few seconds, I had to look away. William Blake says, “And we are put on earth a little space, that we may learn to bear the beams of love.” Jesus chose to physically bear the weight of the wooden beams of the cross because of His love for us. Perhaps one of the most difficult commandments for followers of Jesus is to bear this unbearable, unconditional, unending love while we are painfully aware of our inadequacy. We are conditioned to hustle for worthiness, but God commands us to simply receive the love that has already been given. The act of receiving and experiencing this unconditional love is radical and transformative. It is an act of resistance in a world that tells us that we must be accomplishing and achieving in order to be worthy of love.
Jesus is certainly a man of action, as we should be if we are His followers, but the action must flow out of a deeply rooted sense of our belovedness. Otherwise, our actions become hollow, self-serving, and unhealthy. When we don’t believe and, more importantly, haven’t experienced love apart from anything we have done to deserve it, our actions flow out of a desperate desire to prove our sense of worth. On a recent podcast interview with Jen Hatmaker, Richard Rohr discusses the difference between finding Jesus’ love when we try to be “a good little girl” versus coming to the end ourselves and finding that we are still loved, despite our imperfection. Crisis positions us perfectly to discover the great depths of a love that never runs out.
How do we move from an intellectual understanding of Jesus’ love for us to a transformative experience of that love? Though God reveals Himself to us in many ways and contexts, the simplest discipline I know of is to sit quietly before the Lord with no agenda but to learn to “bear the beams of love,” as Blake says. When I sit quietly, asking for nothing but expecting God’s goodness, I learn to receive His love apart from anything I am doing. In The Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen says, “…the real ‘work’ of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me. This might sound self-indulgent, but, in practice, it is a hard discipline. …To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear a voice of blessing — that demands real effort.”
This “listening prayer,” as I call it, has become vital to my spiritual life. Over time, I can see transformation taking place in my heart. I can enter into worship more quickly without having to wade through as much insecurity. I can more easily trust that God is welcoming me into His presence, even when I’m a mess. When I am about to do something that feels vulnerable, I find myself naturally taking a moment of silence beforehand to let myself be reminded that nothing I do or don’t do will change God’s overwhelming love for me. Relishing even one minute of God’s delight in me can shift the tone for my entire day.
Loved people love people. The amazing thing about “as I have loved you” is that the depth of love Jesus has for us is vast, rich, and multi-dimensional. We can spend our whole lives learning different ways that He loves us and still never come to the end of it. As we learn to let ourselves be cherished, we no longer need to hustle for worthiness. We can more easily believe in abundance, shedding the scarcity mentality that says more for you = less for me. We find rest for our weary souls, and we learn to delight in loving others the way we have been loved.
This Maundy Thursday, may we be people who learn to delight in God’s delight in us. What practices help you to “bear the beams of love?” I’d love to hear from you!