What is Maundy Thursday all about?
Let’s look at Holy Thursday and see what it means.
Let’s examine John 13:1-17, 31b-35 and the events that happened on that Thursday before Christ died?
John 13:1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” 10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
31b “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. 33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The history of Maundy Thursday begins in the Jewish Passover, which finds its roots in the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12). Passover was the 15th day of the first month in the Hebrew calendar. Jesus kept it before his crucifixion. However, instead of mandating a continued observance of the Passover lamb, he became our Passover Lamb (John 1:29-36, Revelation 7:16-17). During the first centuries some Christians observed the original date, but it was a different week day each year. Others found more meaning in observing the weekdays which would culminate in a resurrection Sunday. In teaching respect for different food choices in Romans 14, Paul also taught a non-judgmental attitude and freedom in different approaches to worship days.
2. Counting Days
Ancient counting was inclusive, meaning that today is day one, whereas modern counting is exclusive, meaning that tomorrow is day one. So when we read accounts of three days and three nights, the ancients would have easily recognized it being relevant to a Thursday night through Sunday morning scenario. Days began at sunset. The Christian Passover observance, called Easter in modern English, also celebrated something new, the resurrection of the Lamb. There was no such Old Testament celebration, except perhaps an imperceptible hint of resurrection in the wave sheaf offering, on the Sunday during the Passover week. Continuing to observe a calendar day would have meant observing the resurrection on a different weekday each year. Thus a change was wanted.
The three days became known as the Paschal Triduum (the Great Three Days). Worship practices including the Great Fast (of Good Friday and Holy Saturday), the Great Silence (where non-essential talk is avoided) and the Great Prayer (a time of continued congregational prayer). The Triduum begins on the evening which remembers the original Passover, Maundy Thursday and culminates in Easter Sunday (Orthodox Pascha or Protestant Resurrection Sunday). Maundy Thursday remembers the Last Supper and the institution of Holy Communion, also called the Lord’s Supper and the Eucharist (thanksgiving). It also remembers Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s three denials and everyone else’s desertion of Jesus. This is a very important communion with its dual purpose in honoring Passover and a new Christian observance.
4. Foot Washing
Foot washing was an ancient custom of hospitality when roads were dusty and guests wore sandals. Many Christians honor Jesus’ words to “do as I have done” and literally wash each other’s feet. Others honor the intent of his words in service to each other, love in action. Maundy Thursday derives its name from the Latin mandatum, meaning mandate or commandment. It reminds us of the new mandate to love one another. The washing of feet exemplifies love as not just an emotion, but an action. Jesus’ example also reminds us of the kind of leadership that he expects in his Church, that the greatest among us ought to be the servant of all. Holy Thursday is a somber reminder.
So Maundy Thursday reminds us of the Last Supper, Jesus love for us, his example of servant leadership, and that love of neighbor is not just an emotional feeling, but something that involves action.