Thursday, April 9, 2009

Maundy Thursday Etymology

"The word Maundy is derived through Middle English, and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" ("A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you"), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John (13:34)"

"Mandate (N.)1501, from L. mandatum "commission, order," noun use of neut. pp. of mandare "to order, commit to one's charge," lit. "to give into one's hand," probably from manus "hand" (see manual) + dare "to give" (see date (1)). Political sense of "approval of policy supposedly conferred by voters to winners of an election" is from 1796. Mandatory is attested 1576, "of the nature of a mandate;" sense of "obligatory because commanded" is from 1818."

I can almost hear the general sigh of relief that the modern church adopted the Eucharist as a sacrament and not foot washing. Every church I have ever been in has had groups who felt VERY strongly about the Maundy Thursday custom of foot washing. The questions abound: who washes feet; if you have to wash feet; if washing hands is an appropriate symbolic gesture; should we wash feet at all; what to do if the person coming forward for foot washing is wearing hose; etcetera...

People get really weirded out about having their feet washed (which I can understand, my feet certainly wouldn't win best in show). But, in our obsession with the details it's easy to forget the aspect of foot washing that is about the "mandate". I included the origins for both the word Maundy and mandate because I think that it gets at the heart of why we even attempt the controversial (sigh) washing of feet. We love in imitation of Christ, foot washing was an act of love performed by Jesus for those he loved. We as leaders in the church (and the collective "we" of people who by virtue of our privilege are called to serve others) are to do as Jesus did.

Now, that's the collar's perspective. But from the perspective of the individual getting his or her feet washed it is a moment of vulnerability. It is exposing something that we normally keep hidden to someone in a position of power. It is literally "giving into one's hand" and this I think is the heart of the controversy over foot washing--we are all taught to hide our vulnerabilities and here is a ritual designed to not only expose them but honor us in their exposing. I think that's part of why Simon Peter had such a hissy fit about this--he wasn't willing to be vulnerable even to Jesus. However, when he realized that exposing his vulnerability could be an avenue to greatness he volunteered for a sponge bath!

Once again, Peter missed the point. And, once again, the pre-foot washing discussions are missing the point...are we willing to give our lives into Jesus' hand?

No comments: