I would like to understand more about Maundy Thursday. Can you help?
I’m delighted to help since it is a fantastic component of the Lenten season—and one that was never observed in my
childhood, protestant churches. About a decade ago I was asked to lead an Ash Wednesday service and in so doing, I stumbled upon the information concerning this important Passion-week observance, often neglected by numerous branches of the Christian Church. It is also known as “Holy Thursday” in Catholicism. Once I explain its meaning, you’ll readily understand how important it is. We have our brothers and sisters in the Catholic tradition to thank for instituting and reminding us many of Christianity’s most holy days.
Maundy Thursday occurs the night before Good Friday. While Good Friday is memorialized as a solemn, mournful day for obvious reasons (the Messiah was slain on Good Friday), Maundy Thursday rivals it in its sacred darkness. Mandy Thursday is the memorial-night of the Last Supper of Jesus Christ: the final moments he spent with his beloved twelve disciples; pouring his vital teachings into them and making final remarks they no doubt carried in their hearts for the rest of their lives.
On Maundy Thursday Jesus humbled himself before the twelve disciples in the upper room and washed their feet, demonstrating to them that he was “servant of all.” He also instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion on this night: he broke the bread and served the wine stating emphatically to each one present, “remember me” as he prophesied his horrible death. On this same night, only a few hours later, the Lord was confronted by Roman soldiers and taken into custody. There his long, bloody journey to the cross began. You could say that the darkest hours of the world began right after dinner on Maundy Thursday.
Lest we forget, Judas the betrayer was there at the supper too. He had just eaten the Communion bread when Satan “entered him.” A demon possession took place in that instant, but no one knew it except Jesus. Witnessing the change in the atmosphere, Jesus then confronted Judas and commanded, “What you do, do quickly” (John 13:27, NASB.) Arrangements had already been made in Judas’ mind to disclose the location of the Savior to the evil Pharisees who were hunting him down for crucifixion; the man then excused himself from the table and left in a hurry. Thirty pieces of silver were waiting for Judas when he betrayed the Lord hours later. The Devil made him do it. Literally.
So why the word Maundy? It is the Latin word for “command.” Jesus demonstrated that night that we are to love one another through sacrifice and service. He also created a new commandment and spoke it to the disciples sitting around him: to love one another (John 13:34.) It is the center of the Christian faith and must be the pursuit of every Christ-follower.
Traditionally, Maundy Thursday is celebrated with Holy Communion, since it was instituted on that night, but sometimes it also includes foot-washing, which was also demonstrated by Christ. A strange practice to some, the reality in Jesus’ day was that it was the worst job given to the lowliest servant in the household. The streets of Judea and Jerusalem were littered with animal dung, dirt and garbage. People wore sandals due to the Middle Eastern climate and most people walked everywhere. Alas, when a guest entered your house, a servant was assigned to approach with a basin, pitcher and towel to wash the soiled feet and ankles before the guest entered the gathering. Jesus knelt down and washed the feet of the disciples on Maundy Thursday to make a powerful statement—“I am servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) Enduring their protests at the time, he wanted to make sure they and every disciple after them understood that service and humility were foundational stones in the Kingdom of God.
I urge you to attend a Maundy Thursday church service on that special night. Observe a foot-washing, participate in one and receive Communion at the Lord’s Table. Your heart will be stirred deeply as you receive a deeper insight into the Savior’s life and death.