Summary: What is Maundy Thursday all about? Is it just for Catholics? Let’s look at where Holy Thursday comes from in the Bible, and what it means for us. Let’s examine John 13:1-17, 31b-35?
What is Maundy Thursday all about? Is it just for Catholics? Let’s look at where Holy Thursday comes from in the Bible, and what it means for us. Let’s examine John 13:1-17, 31b-35?
John 13:1-2 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.
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.
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. Their days began at sunset.
The Christian Passover observance, still called Passover in most languages, but Easter in English, celebrates something new, the death AND resurrection of the Lamb. There was only an imperceptible hint of resurrection in the wave sheaf offering, on the Sunday during the Passover week. Easter changes Passover into a resurrection celebration.
John 13:3-17 Jesus … got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 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… “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet… Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Foot washing was an ancient custom of hospitality when roads were dusty and guests wore sandals. Many Christians keep Jesus’ words literally to “do as I have done” and literally wash each other’s feet. Others keep 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.
Maundy Thursday reminds us of the new Christian mandate to love one another. The washing of feet exemplifies love as 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 servants of all.
The Paschal Triduum
John 13:31b-35 “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 three days, Thursday night to Sunday sunrise 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 remembering the death of the Lamb of God, Jesus.
So Maundy Thursday reminds us of the Last Supper, Jesus' love for us, his example of servant leadership, and our mandate to love our neighbour, not just in an emotional feeling, but in deed.