I was concentrating on my “mandatum novum” (new mandate) sermon, for Holy Thursday – or Maundy Thursday. Those two words made me laugh, because who would’ve ever thought I would be learning words like this…latin words! God just cracks me up sometimes! (In a good way).
The complete latin verse, however, is “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” – “A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)
“Mandatum novum” had no meaning for me in the crack houses of Staten Island or the streets of South Road in Jamaica New York.
Or did it?
Seems to me, depending upon who your ‘road dawgs’ were, you did follow a new commandment, irregardless of your context … just not in the conventional way most would think. The roadies I hung with, we didn’t wash each others feet, but we did love one another…we didn’t wash each others feet – but washed each others desperation with each others tears.
- Andrew Marchant, my BEST buddy in that life (who died from AIDS related illness). We looked out for one another on alternating food stamp dates). He sat on the Staten Island pier as I left on the ferry for Phoenix House. He thought I would return. I didn’t, but I would keep track of him, and was present for him in the darkened living-room as he lay on the floor dying in the dark; ashamed of the lesions on his body and the awful curvature of his spine.
- Wendy (who called the cops on me, when I was in labor and sucking on the pipe in her room). It took a lot of courage for her to do that. As she was smoking too, she left herself open to getting kicked out of that welfare hotel. Never knew what happened to her afterwards. I pray she got her life together. I give thanks for that phone call, and the subsequent delivery of my child.
- DeWayne Hailey: My park roadie, my bottle collecting roadie, my finding shelter in the shells of houses that were in the process of being built in St. Albans, Jamaica roadie, my steak stealing and BBQ’ing in the boathouse in the middle of the park, winter snow roadie. I wonder where you are. We may have been crazy … but we definitely looked out for one another.
I give thanks for especially these from my past…”mandatum novum” A new commandment, indeed! We had it down pat…at least they had it down pat for me, until I was able to pick myself up, and begin to find myself.
By no means am I glorifying my past life. But I am lifting up the care people give to one another. Not just people attending church, and living their lives in accordance with society…but I believe there is a measure of love and care in humanity, period! Even if that humanity is homeless, using and medicating the problems in their lives. Especially if that humanity is living in the margins. Especially, if some of us are lucky enough to find one another.
…and when I think about it. I do believe most of ‘us’ have lived into that mandatum novum, as far back as our homeland, and for the most part in the plantation fields as well. We have survived, by doing just that “loving one another”… sometimes, not seeming to loving one another, because we haven’t fully learned what it means to love ourselves – but blood is thicker than water… In the hood and outta the hood, our bloodlines run deep. And that is a story for another time.
Back to what I was talking about. In my example, there are those, who do band together and love one another:
- just to make it through another night, or another day, in each others company.
- just to sit on the pier and watch your buddy’s ferry sail to a distant shore of recovery.
- just to sit on the floor in a darkened room and be present for a dying pal.
- to have the courage to call the authorities to give an unborn child a chance at life.
…love one another, as Christ has loved you.