Today is Maundy Thursday, an important day, yet one overlooked by some during Eastertide. Of course, last Sunday was Palm Sunday celebrating Christ's arrival into Jerusalem on a donkey in the First Century and when children gleefully enter current century churches waving palm branches; the organist offers a rousing version of "Jesus Loves Me" or "Jesus Loves the Little Children" as the wee cherubs parade around the sanctuary.
And all of Christendom of course is familiar with tomorrow, Good Friday, the day Christ was hauled before his false accusers, sentenced to death and crucified at Golgotha.
But what of the day before, Maundy Thursday? We all know what "palm" and "good" signify in the last several days of Christ's life. But what of the odd term "Maundy"? Its meaning springs from the Latin "mandatum" meaning "command", the same root of the common English word mandate.
There was a lot going on during that particular Thursday all setting up the Friday crucifixion and the Sunday resurrection. It was during this busy time when Jesus celebrated the final Passover with his disciples, delivering the prescient metaphor of the bread and wine as his soon-to-be sacrificed body and blood. And in the same room, with humble servitude, he washed the feet of the disciples saying "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." (John 13:34)
Thus we have Maundy -- Commandment -- Thursday.
Still more happened on this last Thursday in Christ's earthly life. After the Last Supper, he and the disciples proceeded to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, and pray hard -- well at least Jesus did so to the point of sweat falling from his brow like drops of blood, per Luke's gospel. Meanwhile the disciples fell asleep only to be awakened by the arrival of soldiers and Judas with his betraying kiss. So yes, a lot went down on this particular day no matter what you may call it.
The Catholics call it Holy Thursday rather than Maundy. And the Baptists---amongst whom I was reared from birth and even through college years in Texas at a particularly large Baptist university with an excellent football team---don't call it much of anything at all. The specific term was probably covered in my mandated New Testament course taught by Dr. Christian (I am not kidding) in Tidwell Bible Building (again, not kidding). I was probably distracted by that cute coed from Dallas seated next to me.
In fact, I don't recall hearing the term Maundy until well into adulthood when I crossed the street to Methodism when my wife Linda, children and I lived in Connecticut. Now up north, Southern Baptist churches are as scarce as grits at a Greek diner. So instead we were welcomed into the fold of a Wesleyan congregation near our home in Newtown as we were decades later on Central Avenue in Bentonville.
Between Newtown and Bentonville, the corporate ladder rung was Texas where, as in Arkansas, there are more Baptist churches than Shell stations. At this point my dear father, Baptist deacon, choir member back in the Louisiana hometown and the nephew of a prominent Baptist minister, hoped we'd return to the grace-preaching Baptists as opposed to the good-works Methodists. That didn't happen. He finally ended his infrequent yet years-long proselytizing. With exasperation on the phone one afternoon he confessed "Well, Ted, I guess you've just returned to your Talley roots."
Wait a second, Daddy. What was that? Turned out this denominational issue was traced to my paternal grandmother.
"Well son, we were Baptists because Mama was a Corkern and the Corkerns were Baptists," he admitted, "except for us, the Talleys were Methodists."
An epiphany in my fourth decade of life: It became clear why, deep in the Southern woods of my childhood, we were the only Talleys in a sizeable Baptist congregation. All the others were down the way at the Methodist church---on Talley Chapel Road no less.
I could have become angry recalling the needless pestering of Linda and me to join a Southern Baptist congregation. Instead I gave a chuckle and an eye roll and let it go. I suppose I was following Jesus' Maundy mandate: "Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another."
In this case, love meant not being supremely irritated with my earthly father, while being thankful for the commanding, gracious presence of my heavenly one.