Maundy Thursday 101

Maundy Thursday 101


What is Maundy Thursday?

Maundy Thursday is the day that Christians commemorate the gathering of Jesus and his disciples for the Last Supper. Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum, meaning commandment, in reference to Jesus' teachings about a new commandment. "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" (Jn. 13:34-35, NRSV).

What do Christians do on Maundy Thursday?

Because Maundy Thursday is an observance of the The Last Supper, this day’s services often ritualize either the washing of feet (see Jn. 13:1-20) or Holy Communion (see see Matt. 26:17-30, Mk. 14:12-25, Lk. 22:7-23).

Why is it called The Last Supper?

The events of Maundy Thursday are traditionally called The Last Supper or The Lord’s Supper (see Matt. 26:17-30, Mk. 14:12-25, Lk. 22:7-23). Jesus and the disciples gathered in Jerusalem to share together the Feast of Unleavened Bread (or the Passover). Before the meal, Jesus took the role of a servant and washed the feet of his disciples (see Jn. 13:1-20). Then he blessed and broke bread, blessed and shared wine, and reminded the disciples to remember him whenever they broke the bread and shared the cup. This was the last meal that he shared with his followers before his arrest and crucifixion.

What is a foot washing?

A foot washing is a ritual that reminds Christians that before the Lord’s Supper, Jesus took the role of a servant and washed his disciples’ feet (see Jn. 13:1-20). Jesus said to his disciples, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (Jn. 13:14).

The root of this practice comes from the acts of hospitality in the ancient world. Upon entering a home, the host would provide a servant to wash the dusty feet of a traveler. Jesus’ act of washing his disciples’ feet was an act of humility and a lesson that his followers were called to be servants of the world.

What is Holy Communion?

HOLY COMMUNION. A sacred ritual action, a holy meal through which the church remembers God's saving work in creation and covenant, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The church invites and invokes the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, celebrating with thanksgiving Christ's continuing presence in the world through the Holy Spirit. We receive a foretaste of and anticipate the heavenly banquet.

Holy Communion is also often referred to as Eucharist or the Lord's Supper. Each of these names finds its roots in the witness of the New Testament and in the life of the early church. Holy Communion emphasizes the holy meal as a means by which we participate in a holy and loving relationship with God and our neighbors (1 Cor. 10:16-17). Eucharist, from the Greek word meaning "to give thanks," reminds us that when Jesus gathered his disciples for a meal, he gave thanks to God for God's creating and saving work in the world (Luke 22:17-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). This understanding is reflected in the fact that many churches call the prayer at the holy meal the "Great Thanksgiving."

In Eucharist we continue Jesus' action of thanksgiving as we offer our own praise and thanks to God. The Great Thanksgiving typically includes remembrance of God's saving work in the history of Israel, in Christ, and in the church; a specific recalling (anamnesis) of the actions of Jesus at the Last Supper; and an invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiclesis) over the bread and cup that they may be, for God's people, the body and blood of Christ and that we may be Christ's body in the world.

The name Lord's Supper reminds us that this holy meal is neither one to which we invite ourselves nor at which we determine who will be at the table with us. As the Lord's Supper, Christ serves as host and issues the invitations (1 Cor. 11:17-22). Churches have debated exactly how Christ is present at the meal and in the elements. Perhaps it is best to follow Charles Wesley's lead in his hymn "O the Depth of Love Divine" and admit that we cannot plumb the depths of God's mysteries.

Credit: Excerpted from “Holy Communion” by E. Byron Anderson from The Upper Room Dictionary of Christian Spiritual Formation, edited by Keith Beasley-Topliffe. Copyright © 2003 by Upper Room Books. Used with permission. All Rights Reserved.

How can I observe Maundy Thursday?

1. Attend a service of worship at your local church.

2. Pray the prayer for Maundy Thursday.

3. Listen to “‘Remembrance” by Matt Maher. This song calls us to respond to Christ’s invitation to “Remember me,” a practice that leads us to worship and to communion with God.

4. Read “Peter.” This poem based on Peter’s betrayal of Jesus in Luke 22:54-62 invites us to reflect on times we have betrayed Jesus or denied our faith.  

5. Consider ways you can serve others today. Consider reaching out to someone who is lonely, volunteering at a local food pantry, or praying for others on The Upper Room’s prayer wall.

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