Today is Maundy Thursday – the day in which we pass with Jesus into the darkness of his last night, a darkness that will tremble with evil forces – the betrayal of Judas, his arrest, the torture, the scourging, the mocking crowds and ultimately Christ’s death on the cross. Maundy Thursday is a difficult night, a dark night of the soul in which Jesus’ determination to reach the cross is juxtaposed with the powers of evil he must struggle against. We celebrate Maundy Thursday by remembering and walking the path with Christ.
What does Maundy mean?
The term “Maundy” comes from the Latin phrase Mandatum Novum, which means “a new commandment.” So when we talk about Maundy Thursday, we are referring to the Thursday before Easter Sunday, the day in which Christ instituted the new commandment of love by both word and by symbolic action.
How is it celebrated?
On this night, Jesus ate with his disciples, washed their feet, instituted the Last Supper, and was betrayed by Judas. Many churches throughout the world seek to commemorate this day by re enacting the journey of Jesus to show solidarity.
On the night that he was betrayed, Jesus celebrated a Passover Meal with his disciples – Passover was an important time in the Jewish tradition in which a Passover Lamb had to be sacrificed to atone for the sins of the people.
So Maundy Thursday typically begins with a meal, for some this will be the last meal they eat until Easter Sunday to show solidarity with Christ, as this was the last meal that Jesus ate before his crucifixion and resurrection.
If not food, what is something that you might deny yourself in the build up to Easter Sunday to show solidarity with Christ?
This is normally a simple and quiet meal – there is no music, which typically emphasizes the gravity of the event that the church has gathered to recall and experience together.
Following the theme of walking in Christ’s footsteps, many churches throughout the world today will also commemorate Maundy Thursday with a time of foot washing.
In Jesus day, foot washing was a task typically reserved for non-Jewish slaves, who would greet dusty footed guests by the door and wash their feet as an act of hospitality – this was normally done upon arrival, but Jesus washed his disciples feet during the meal.
Jesus washes his disciples’ feet as a final proof of his love for them, setting an example of humility and servant hood for his disciples and foreshadowing the washing away of sins through his death. It is powerful to realize that Jesus washed all of his disciples’ feet – including Judas.
Although it may seem awkward, the practice of washing one another’s feet still communicates a great deal of love and humility in our culture today. Is there anyone, friend or foe, who you could invite into this beautiful practice today?
Foot washing is a truly beautiful practice that communicates a powerful message – By following Christ’s model we are reversing the social order and recognizing his call for all people to see their lives as lives of servant hood. Many churches model this by having the Priests, Ministers and Pastors of the church lead by example and wash the congregants feet.
The Lord’s Supper
How amazing to realize in the midst of Holy Week, that it was on Maundy Thursday that Jesus first instituted the Lord’s Supper that we practice and love so dearly today. Jesus took the bread, blessed it, saying, “Take, eat; this is my body broken for you,” then he took the cup and shared, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt 26:17-29)
On Maundy Thursday, churches celebrate by recalling the institution of the Lord’s Supper. This is typically a more sober Eucharist service than a usual Sunday, as it soberly reminds us of the connection made between bread, wine, and death. At this point with his disciples, Jesus had not yet been crucified or resurrected – so this time of communion is a deep, intense and sustained focus on the death of Christ, focusing primarily on the fact that this was the night that he was betrayed.
We don’t celebrate communion like this every week – normally the Lord’s Supper is a time of rejoicing in the light of the Resurrection! It may feel uncomfortable – but this is a time in the church calendar to focus on the death that comes before resurrection. How can you use this day to soberly remember how Jesus willingly gave his body and blood to be broken and shed for you?
The Solemn Stripping of the Table
The final act in a Maundy Thursday worship service, is the sober, silent, and solemn stripping of the communion table, which stands as a symbol of Jesus being stripped of His garments and clothing before his crucifixion.
The service typically ends on this note in silence, and the pastors and congregation leave quietly in silence to preserve the gravity and symbolism of all they have journeyed through together.
Maybe you aren’t watching the stripping of a communion table today, but in your mind’s eye can you visualize the table we gather around each Sunday, bare, stripped and empty. Take a moment of silence to reflect upon the preparation and humiliation Christ went through as he journeyed to the cross.
I hope this exploration of Maundy Thursday has been meaningful and insightful for you! Whether or not you are able to attend a Maundy Thursday Worship service this evening, may you find moments of unforced rhythms of grace to find solidarity with Christ this Holy Week. It can be so hard to sit in the mourning that comes before Easter Sunday, how bitter the sorrow but how much sweeter is the explosion of life on Easter Sunday when we submit ourselves to the journey of Christ!
May Christ be ever before you,
Jenna and The Practice Team