Mandatum novum do vobis

Today is “Maundy” Thursday. Maundy is a fifteenth-century English word that (probably) comes, via Old French, from the Latin “Mandatum” - commandment. Mandatum novum: a new commandment.  While celebrating the passover, Jesus gave his twelve followers what he called “a new commandment”: “Love one another. By this all men will know that you are my followers.”

Later that night, one of them betrayed him to the authorities that wanted him dead; all but one fled from him when the army turned up, and before the next dawn that one had three times denied that he ever knew him. With his new commandment, Jesus instituted a new order, a new way of being, and of being known. Within twenty-four hours he was dead, his followers scattered. Instead of love, lies, fear, and betrayal.  

But it was not the only new commandment he gave. Another, and much more contested, was that spoken over the unleavened passover bread he was tearing up to share with them: “Hoc est corpus meum.” This is my body. With this simple metaphor he writes himself into sacred history, past and future. He accepts the death that follows hard upon this feast, and founds with these frail men a new order in which love and death are one.