Whatever their reason, I don’t believe it’s because they reject what Easter promises.
Easter celebrates that Christ’s followers went to a tomb that first Easter morning expecting only a corpse and instead found the living Christ.
Easter’s promise is that we continue to find life where we expected only death.
Our world craves that promise. I believe God has created us with that craving. This is why we cry and mourn at funerals. We love life and hate death. This is why broken relationships rock our lives the way they do. We crave reconciliation. This is why so many are plagued with guilt. We crave forgiveness. Everywhere that it feels like something has died, we long for new life.
In a world that craves the promise of Easter, why have so many given up on the Christ, and the Church, that offer that promise?
Could it be because they need to see Maundy Thursday and too rarely see it?
What Maundy Thursday is about
In a typical Maundy Thursday service, you might hear these words from the Gospel of John: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.” He had all things under his power. That makes the next line startling: “so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.” And then he proceeded to wash his disciples’ feet.1
Imagine that scene––the One who took dust from the ground and formed a man in the beginning was at his Last Supper, where he got up from the meal, knelt on the ground, and cleaned the dust off the feet of the ones he created!
And then, shortly after Jesus got up from washing his disciples’ feet, he said this: “A new command I give you: Love one another.”
But that wasn’t much of a new command. “Love your neighbor as yourself” had been around quite a while. What he said next makes it new: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” That’s the mandate that Maundy Thursday is named for.
Living the mandate of Maundy Thursday
To believe that Easter’s promise is true, it would help our world to see the Church live the mandate of Maundy Thursday.
For most, the problem isn’t that they need more “evidence that demands a verdict,” proving Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s that they need to understand Christ––to understand Jesus in all his divinity and all his humanity, to understand a God who humbles himself so low that he becomes obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Are his disciples today making that humility evident by loving, even as Christ loved us? Are his disciples found kneeling, a towel wrapped around their waists? Wherever we’re found instead jockeying for power and fighting for what we’re “due,” we may be the stumbling block.
This is why it seemed so right to us that Pope Francis left the comfortable confines of a Roman Catholic cathedral last year to wash the feet of a young incarcerated Muslim woman. Why it seems so right to us that Pope Francis refuses to live in the palatial residences offered him and prefers public transit to a limo.
To our world: if your impression of us, Christ’s followers, is that we spend more time arguing over who will be greatest than seeking to serve the least of these––I’m sorry. We’ve misrepresented our Savior often. Where you’ve seen us seeking greatness and riches, you’ve seen a Church that has not understood––or has not chosen to follow––its Savior.
But let me be clear about this, too… Christ’s disciples have been falling short since the beginning. At the Last Supper––almost immediately after Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and predicted his betrayal and death––what did they do? They began to fight over who was the greatest!
We come from a long line of disciples who have misunderstood or ignored Christ’s call to be found among those who serve. But that ignorance and misbehavior has never negated the promise of Easter. If you are refusing the promise of Easter because you aren’t seeing the Church take Jesus’ new command seriously, can I plead with you to reconsider? Christ’s promises are true, whether or not you see them lived out in those who claim him. Don’t miss the perfect goodness of Christ because of his Church’s flaws and failings.
And I should be clear about this, too… We, the Church, are flawed and often fail. But we are also, many of us, seeking Christ. We’re seeking to live according to his humility, his self-giving love, his grace and truth. I hope you’ve seen at least a bit of that. Where we fall short, bear with us in our attempts to get it right, as we trust Christ bears with us.
If you have been hurt by the Church, I apologize. I’ve been hurt before, too. Admittedly, some of the times I have been hurt were because of my own pride. At its best, the Church is full of grace and truth, just as her Savior is. And there are times that truth, even presented with grace, has a bite. At her best, the Church must continue to be full of truth, and we can’t apologize for that, but where you have heard truth with no grace––or supposed truth that was no truth at all––I apologize. Where you have heard a presentation of “truth” that was seeking power or status, rather than hoping for reconciliation, I apologize.
And so I plead with you again––if the promises of Easter are true, if they even may be true, don’t miss them because you haven’t seen the Church living out Christ’s new command.
To the Church: may we follow the command of our Savior. How can we be found on our knees rather than exalted? Serving our world rather than expecting to be served by it? Found among the least of these in our world rather than the greatest? How can Pope Francis’s example encourage all of us toward greater simplicity and generosity?
May our leaders be known for commonly rejecting privilege and power, wealth and prosperity, not for climbing ladders toward more power and more money. May we, as congregations, ask more questions about how we can serve the world than questions about whether we are being served properly.
May we be an Easter people––celebrating life where before there was only death––and celebrating that life best by joining our Savior on his knees and at the cross.
I lay out more specifically what I mean by Easter’s promise in the post “Why I Love Wesleyan Theology.”
- John 13:3–5 ↩