Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. - John 13:1
In church parlance we call tonight Maundy Thursday. The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word “mandatum,” meaning mandate or command. As Jesus gathers with his friends around the table for his Last Supper, he instructs them how to live, giving them the New Commandment: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
That we should love one another…yes. But Jesus, in his words to his friends around the table seminar on their last night together has the long view in mind: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” That we should make loving another to the end our aim, now that is hard work. Once I start reading a book I have trouble reading a book to its end, from cover to cover. And reading a book can be far easier than loving a human being!
I found it a bit coincidental this Thursday morning when I opened a journal I have been trying to read daily and the advice is on finishing what you start when it comes to reading a book.
I have been reading Joan Chittester’s book The Rule of Saint Benedict, a daily journal of reflections on the writings of St. Benedict, founder of the Benedictine Order. Benedict of Nursa was born in 480 A.D. and lived when the foundations of the Roman Empire were shaking. (I suspect many of you are saying: “Must be a gripping read.”) The Rule of St. Benedict is simple and yet complex and while written long ago is fresh for our 21st century lives who are searching, often in vain, for some spiritual framework around which to organize our lives in a period when public devotion is a thing of the past and the overarching questions of life are more pressing than ever. After a lofty sentence like that it would seem odd that when I opened the journal for today, March 29th that St. Benedict is focused on what appears at first blush to be focusing on minutia. With what seems like mundane instructions, Benedict offers advice that during Lent, the monks are to be assigned a book to read “straight through” and were given more time during the day to read. That is to put themselves on a regimen and study in a serious and ordered way. Benedictines were known for the labor of their hands; they did not shy away from work. At the same time, work is not what defined their life. The search for God and love for their fellow human being is what defined Benedictine spirituality. (That is something to take stock of when we are identified more by what we do than that we are.) Study is hard work. Just as with them, we find it is so much easier to find something else to do in its place than to stay at the grind of learning. We have excuses aplenty for avoiding the dull, hard, daily attempt to learn. Of Benedictine spirituality Chittester writes: “life is to be struggled through and worked at and concentrated on and cultivated. It is not a matter of simply going through it and hoping enough of the rust of time is removed by accident to make us burnished spiritual adults” (p. 216)
Same advice when it comes to reading a book could be said when it comes to loving another human being. Loving another is not a feeling. It is a choice; it is a behavior. It involves hard work. It takes the long view. It was for Jesus. And it is for us in our attempts to love others. Today, on this Maundy Thursday, I am thankful that Jesus did the hard work of love. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. - John 13:1