Today our imaginations, our existence, our entire lives are all gripped by a microscopic virus that is creating so much havoc and panic all over. The world is bracing to contain CoViD-19, to stay safe and to save lives. From the most powerful nation to the least, from the richest person to an unknown beggar, from a world leader to a street dweller, from a doctor to a patient, we are all on the edge. Nuclear bombs no longer seem to be a threat for the world at this juncture of world history. Ironically, it is a nanoscale virus that is threatening humanity to be wiped out from the face of the earth! No one is safe and no one yet knows what each day beholds. With the number of people getting infected adding up swiftly and the number of deaths rising by leaps and bounds, all of a sudden lives are interrupted, works are disrupted, some have departed, and in many places everything has come to a grinding halt.
With many parts of the world in lockdowns, “stay home and stay safe” has become the catch phrase. “Staying home and staying safe” now has a totally new meaning because it also implies that no one is welcome to our homes at this critical time. For the first time in our lives, we have all been pleading with our extended family members, friends, visitors and outsiders that they are not welcome to our homes because we want to stay locked in inside our homes. Whoever or whatever knocks at our doors at this time can be the harbinger of something deadly! Death may just be knocking at the door! This is not fiction but has become a way of life for all of us now for the past few days and weeks and months, depending on where we are. This has not happened before in our generation, in our lifetime!
The pandemic and tragedy of CoViD-19 is heart wrenching for the way some things are happening or done as never ever before. A gravedigger in Cornwall, England sorrowfully speaks about him digging several graves and keeping them ready for people who are still alive, something which he has never done before. For many who are infected by the virus and are in critical condition, death is just lurking around! It is a sad and a painful reality. Death is knocking at their doors! It may soon knock at our doors too.
On Maundy Thursday, death was knocking at the door of Jesus too! Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper found in Luke 22:13-20, the eve of his crucifixion and death. The Last Supper is derived from Jesus’ Jewish heritage about the observance of the Passover Seder in which the feast of unleavened bread is eaten and celebrated. It commemorates the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.
The Thursday before Easter Sunday is known as Maundy Thursday, or sometimes Holy Thursday. Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum, which means “commandment.” It refers to the command that Jesus gave to his disciples while washing their feet in the Upper Room during the Last Super, saying to the disciples: “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” John 13:34-35. It is the ultimate act of servanthood as Jesus instructs his disciples to love and to serve one another. As a reminder of this commandment of Jesus, Christians practice foot washing of fellow believers on Maundy Thursday, an incredibly humbling activity of serving each other.
On Maundy Thursday, besides Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, they were also eating unleavened bread. And at this Last Supper, Jesus broke bread, saying to his disciples, “This is my body,” and poured the cup, saying, “This is my blood.” He then asked his disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Today, this Holy Thursday, we ought to emulate the foot washing that Jesus taught his disciples to do. We also reminisce the Last Supper even as we observe the Lord’s Supper in partaking the bread and the cup in remembrance of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ who gave up his life for us. In sharing the bread and the cup with fellow believers, we affirm that we are one in the body of Christ in koinonia, which sustains our relationship with him until he returns.
On Maundy Thursday, Jesus already foreknew that he will soon be arrested and put to death. He also had an empty tomb ready for his burial. This is the dark side of Maundy Thursday. But this dark side of death is the evangelion for us! It is the good news of not only staying safe but being saved eternally. To “stay safe” is to discern a totally new meaning in the death of Jesus. On the dark night of Maundy Thursday, the preparation for humanity not only to “stay safe” but to “remain saved” eternally was brewing.
To “stay safe” at this point of time in history gives us temporal hope. But to “remain saved” in the person of Jesus gives us eternal hope. For those who believe in this Jesus, even if death knocks at the door, we will not only stay safe but remain saved forever. On this Maundy Thursday as we meditate to stay safe and be saved, in spite of the lockdown and to stay at home, may we open up to serve those in need who comes our way at every opportunity. May we also intercede for the rest of the world to know that, no matter what kind of pandemic strikes humanity or even if death knocks at the door, there is a Savior of the world, Jesus. Amen!
Dr James Kalong is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Oriental Theological Seminary (OTS), Bade, Dimapur. This reflection is the first in a series of articles written for the Holy Week by OTS faculty in partnership with The Morung Express.