Good Friday, we know. And Easter most certainly. But what is Maundy Thursday? Maundy Thursday is the Thursday before Easter, believed to be the day when Jesus celebrated his final Passover with His disciples. Most notably, that Passover meal was when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples in an extraordinary display of humility. He then commanded them to do the same for each other.
What Does Maundy Thursday Mean?
Christ's "mandate" is commemorated on Maundy Thursday---"maundy" being a shortened form of mandatum (Latin), which means "command." It was on the Thursday of Christ's final week before being crucified and resurrected that He said this commandment to His disciples. Jesus and his disciples had just shared what was known as the Last Supper and he was washing their feet when he stated:
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another" (John 13:34).
What Was the New Commandment Given on Maundy Thursday?
Well, for one thing, it raised the definition of love to a new and higher standard. Jesus sacrificially met His followers' deepest need---that of new spiritual life and the forgiveness of sins. He even loved His enemies, and He calls us to show love to those who don't appear to deserve it. Just as Jesus loved sinners "to the end" (or "to the max" John 13:1) when He had nothing to gain from them, so must we. The Bible says that there was nothing attractive about sinful mankind that drew Him to love us. God loved us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). Salvation is not only a wonderful gift that protects us from the penalty that we deserve Romans 6:23, the work of Christ also embues new life, grants spiritual strength, and motivates godly action in those who believe:
"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." (Titus 2:11-14)
While Scripture doesn't forbid us to commemorate days like Maundy Thursday, the main question is are we observing Christ's new command to love---especially those who deserve it least?
"Beloved, let us love one another. For love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:7-8)
Many churches observe Maundy Thursday with a Communion service and a foot-washing ceremony. These traditions help Christians reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus and his commandment for us to love and serve others.
What Does Communion Have to Do with Maundy Thursday?
Often, during communion, a pastor will read the following passage about what happened on the events of Maundy Thursday:
1 Corinthians 11:23-26: "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes."
Every time we participate in communion, we recognize what happened during the events of Maundy Thursday. That our Lord Jesus was betrayed, to be tried and crucified the next day on Good Friday.
What Happened in the Garden of Gethsemane?
In the Garden of Gethsemane, after Jesus prays in earnest to the Lord, the disciple Judas Iscariot leads a mob to Jesus to arrest him and try him in a kangaroo court, which ultimately leads to his execution.
Jesus predicts this will happen earlier in the night.
Before these events take place, Jesus participates in the Last Supper with his followers, in which he breaks the bread and passes around a cup of wine, signifying his sacrifice. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he pleads with the Lord to take away the cup of wrath from him but also submits to the Father's will. The apostles fall asleep during these hours of agony and anxiety.
Maundy Thursday Bible Verses
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Luke 22:27-38 - " When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” .."
John 13:2-17 - "Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he 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. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Philippians 2:1-11 - "Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness...
Many Christians know about Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but we have to recognize the day the preceded these events. The day in which Jesus broke bread, prayed in the Garden, and yielded to his unjust arrest.
Maundy Thursday Prayer
Alex Crain is the former editor of Christianity.com.
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