Holy Week Meditations: Maundy Thursday

Welcome to Maundy Thursday! "Maundy" is a fancy way of saying "Mandate" and contrary to bro-theology does not come from the fact that Jesus' final words to his disciples were during a man-date with his bro's in the upper room. It does, however, come from the instructions he gives them - a new commandment, "Love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34-35). John's Gospel includes Jesus washing his disciple's feet and giving them this commandment. Matthew does not include this but emphasizes Jesus telling the disciples, male and female, he is going ahead of them to Galilee (the place where Jesus chose to focus his ministry). This connects the thread to what the angel says at the empty tomb and what Jesus says when he meets the two Mary's on Easter morning.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. What struck me this Maundy Thursday is the male disciple's absence after this point in the narrative. They celebrate the Passover dinner with him, Jesus washes their feet, have a love feast where he tells them "Love one another like I have loved you" and then they live into Jesus' warning and abandon him. As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says in Crazy Christians, "Let's call the roll of those Jesus asked to follow him, let's take attendance of the apostles at the crucifixion of their Lord. Simon Peter? Absent. (The other 11 disciples?) Absent. Mary Magdalene? Present and accounted for!" (p4). Today, let's look at some PRIMARY characters in the narrative who, unfortunately, are often overlooked and treated as secondary. 

Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
— Matthew 27:55-56
Pieta by Michelangelo

Pieta by Michelangelo

Matthew includes Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James and Joseph, and Mrs. Zebedee. Mark includes Salome. John includes Jesus' mother, Mary and Mary the wife of Clopas. There are many commentaries on why this is, including the idea that the women had a kind of immunity to be present at the cross as mourners. But really these guys were scared out of their wits. They were concerned for and terrified for their lives. 

Mary Magdalene and the first Easter egg. (According to tradition, after the resurrection, Mary traveled to Rome and presented the Emperor with an egg and exclaimed, "Christ is Risen!" The emperor replied, "Christ is no more risen than that egg is red." And immediately the egg turned red and thus we have the tradition of dyeing eggs at Easter.)

Mary Magdalene and the first Easter egg. (According to tradition, after the resurrection, Mary traveled to Rome and presented the Emperor with an egg and exclaimed, "Christ is Risen!" The emperor replied, "Christ is no more risen than that egg is red." And immediately the egg turned red and thus we have the tradition of dyeing eggs at Easter.)

Nevertheless, the women persisted. Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Mrs. Zebedee were courageous and bold DISCIPLES. They too were present in the upper room, they bank rolled the male disciple's ministry in Galilee, and when the male disciples fell asleep in the garden, the women held vigil at the tomb on the Sabbath into the wee hours of the third day. (Spoiler Alert:) on the first day of the week, the women disciples are there at the tomb. In Matthew's Gospel, they don't have spices or embalming (presumably they've already done it before they sealed the tomb of Friday night). They are going because THEY LISTENED to Jesus! He repeatedly told folks that he would be raised on the third day - so here they are, going to see! They trusted and had faith. As I heard Bishop Curry preach at the Festival of Homiletics in 2014, "If not for Mary Magdalene and the other women, we may not have known about the brother (Jesus)!"

Peter, James, and John (Jesus' inner circle) are nowhere to be found. Did they not hear him? Even Pilate and the chief priests heard Jesus' proclamation and were concerned about it - they had extra guards posted and they had the rock sealed for fear that disciples would steal the body and claim Jesus was raised from the dead. Or maybe they feared the real resurrection itself? Either way, every. single. person in the narrative is riddled with fear...except the women. Praise God for the faithful witness of Mary Magdalene. 

Pondering's for us: (From Sam Wells' Power and Passion)

  • I wonder what it is like to feel you cannot love as much as you are loved.
  • I wonder what it is like to hope like Mary Magdalene and trust in Christ wholeheartedly.
  • I wonder what it is like to run towards death instead of away from it. 
  • I wonder what it is like to not fear. I wonder especially these days, and especially as a woman, POC, or person with a disability or any marginalized person, what it would feel and look like to live without fear like Mary Magdalene? 
  • I wonder what it feels like to have joy and awe that drowns out fear and anxiety.