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Earlier this week I was out changing the signboard in front of the church announcing the services and times for this week’s upcoming schedule of worship. A woman passing by stopped and apologized for interrupting me but asked if I meant “Monday” where I had placed “Maundy.” A short etymology lesson ensued about how Holy Thursday is also called Maundy Thursday coming from the Latin, mandatum, for command where in the Gospel Jesus says to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (I am aware that there is disagreement if this is actually the root of Maundy but this is the spiel I gave.) We chatted a little more. She self identified as a “lapsed Protestant”—many of whom I’ve met but seldom have I heard them call themselves that. She lives a few blocks away. Has been to our church for a community meeting once but otherwise not visited. I invited her to come and worship. She was very kind as I attempted to be as well. I hope she’ll come back but I’ll make no wager.
Also earlier this week The Daily Show announced that Trevor Noah would replace Jon Stewart as the host once Stewart retires sometime during the next year. I’m a big fan of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart, and so far much of what I’ve seen of Trevor Noah. Noah is not a widely known comedian here in the States. When his name was announced most of the media’s response was “who?,” although he has appeared on The Daily Show three times as a correspondent. Since the announcement there has been some pushback accusing his jokes of including elements of sexism, anti-Semitism, and racism. The 31-year old South African, should he weather the accusations and become the next host, will bring a particular international and especially African perspective to the comic delivery and commentary of our daily news especially raring into the upcoming presidential election season.
However unknown Noah may be, he is not an entirely new entity on the comedic entertainment scene. In 2013 Noah performed in an off-Broadway solo show entitled “Born a Crime” about being born mixed race in apartheid South Africa to a black Xhosa mother and white Swiss father. He was literally born a crime where his parents’ love was illegal, as was his birth as dictated by a legal system inherited from a religious heritage not so far removed from our own Reformed tradition. It seems so incredibly absurd, as life can often be. 2013 also debuted a Showtime TV special called “Trevor Noah: African American” of which IMDb (Internet Movie Database) said, “Noah shares his perspective of growing up a mixed-race child under Apartheid, and fearlessly breaks down racial stereotypes on all sides by becoming what Newsweek calls a ‘cultural chameleon.’” It will be precisely the elements of culture and his commentary on race, religion, and politics meeting that makes me look forward to Noah’s anchoring of The Daily Show.
Back to Maundy Thursday, preparing for communion and the washing of someone’s feet tonight at our worship service it is difficult not to read John’s Gospel’s telling of Jesus’ story as a kind of cultural and religious commentary too, much more somber, sure but importantly comical nonetheless. So often in the gospels we read Jesus as much more omniscient than he really is, not giving due credit to his real humanity and learning and living into his messiahship along the way. But tonight in this last supper Jesus does know more than his disciples are aware of, more of what will take place, of what they will do. Jesus knows of Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, and the disciples’ fleeing. Still Jesus gives them a new commandment and shows them by washing their feet. How incredibly absurd, as Jesus’ love so often is.
Halfway through Holy Week as we are it is difficult to truly enter into a journey with Jesus. We try. I try. We remember. But perhaps we’re too omniscient too, we know too much of the story. We have too much of the past, know to much of the future, to ever truly be in the present. We will experience Good Friday, but we’ll hang on to Easter out of absolute necessity. We may live more time in Holy Saturday than any other time this week, but we still know—if only by faith—what the future day will bring. But tonight, can we have communion with this same Christ? Can we have communion with those who denied him? Can we hear a new commandment?