Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, is observed as the fifth day of Holy Week, the day before Good Friday. The English word “maundy” derives from the Latin word mandatum, a command. Down through the centuries of church history, this “mandate” or command from the Lord is associated with two commands Jesus gives during his observance of the Jewish Passover in the Upper Room with his disciples.
The first of these two commands is found in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” This mandate to love is given after Jesus has set the example of washing the feet of his disciples. He, the master, took the place of a servant to wash the dirt and grime of the streets off the feet of his followers. In some Christian traditions a service of foot washing is practiced to follow Jesus’ example as part of their Maundy Thursday observance.
When I first came to Kensington Baptist Church, way back in the last century, a proposed foot washing service was the occasion of my first pastoral “crisis” at the church. I had participated in foot washing services and found them to be a powerful teaching example of the call to love one another. When I announced that this would be part of our observance of Maundy Thursday at the church, I soon found out that there were many who did not share my enthusiasm for such vulnerable and intimate contact, especially some of the older members of the congregation. (Now that I am older myself and my feet carry the wear and battle scars of 64 years I can better appreciate their trepidation.) Anyway, during the middle of the week prior to Holy Week, I got a call from the chair of the elder board. He told me that there was quite a bit of discomfort in the ranks and that if we proceeded with our plans to wash one another’s feet there might be only a couple of us there to enter into that observance.
What did we do? I felt the best course of action was to follow the mandate to love one another rather than focus on the expression of foot washing. In Jesus’ day that was an everyday practice. Not so much in 20th century Connecticut. So we scrubbed the foot washing, but made the larger point in the process. Loving one another is still at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. “Who can I show love to?” and “how is the best way to do that?” are good questions to ask ourselves every day. Maundy Thursday reminds us of that.
Jesus instructs us to love one another as he has loved us. This points to the second mandate given at the Passover meal he celebrated with his disciples before proceeding to Gethsemane and then to the cross. Jesus took two of the elements of the Passover meal –the bread and the wine—and instituted an observance of the New Covenant that would be ratified by his death on the cross. We, of course, don’t refer to the meal in the Upper Room as a Passover seder; but as the Last Supper or the Lord’s Supper. In declaring the New Covenant and instituting a new ritual meal that derives from the old to celebrate that covenant, Jesus mandates his followers “to do this in remembrance of (him).”
At our observance of Maundy Thursday we will worship the Lord through reflection, song and communion. You are encouraged to join us March 29 at 7:00 PM as we do these things in remembrance of Him.