Then it occurred to me that it’s Maundy Thursday, the day before our traditional commemoration of Jesus’ execution—a bad day, it seemed to me, to be finding fault with Jesus as a rhetorician in this instance.
So, I’m not going to go there. Instead, I will tell you where the word maundy comes from, as I’m sure you’ve been wondering that ever since you read the word here, maybe ever since you first heard the news. I know I have.
It is a shortened form of the first word of the Latin phrase, Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos, the first sentence of the Mass said on that day back in the Middle Ages. The Middle English word maunde—which came to refer to the Last Supper and also to the ceremony of washing feet which Jesus performed at the Last Supper—derived from the French word (remember, after the Norman Conquest in 1066, they were there in England, massively influencing our language the way they refuse to let us do these days) mandé, invented in the days when Latin language for all things religious was so ubiquitous that people made up little shortened versions to sling around. Religious slang, as it were.
The Latin phrase is the Vulgate translation of what Jesus says to his disciples when he’s washing their feet: “A new commandment I give you: Live one another, as I have loved you.” Mandatum—or, for short, maunde or mandé or maundy—is the word commandment.
My research of this matter took me back to—no surprise when the Holy Spirit’s involved—this business serving two masters. Here’s the explanation of footwashing—or, more generally, the love one another mandé—that Jesus offers after Peter first balks, then gives in, saying, “Then, Lord…not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (John 13:9): “Do you understand what I have done for you?...I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 3:12, 15-16).
We are to be, in other words, servants to one another, to treat one another as our masters—just as Jesus treated all of us as his master, in some sense. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am,” he explains (John 13:13). But he is also our servant. As our master, he serves us, just as we should do to one another. That’s Jesus’ definition of love.
Not too sure if I got to a point, here, but it’s been fun trying.
PS: The noun slang, as I’ve suggested here, really does derive from the verb sling. I checked. I love etymology. (But I love God more, just to make that clear.)