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Maundy Thursday

A wooden chalice and bowl of pieces of bread next to an open book that says "Maundy Thursday"

On Maundy Thursday, the Church remembers the night Christ observed the Passover with his disciples right before his betrayal and arrest. The Passover Supper was pivotal in the lives of the Jewish people because it commemorated their deliverance from slavery in Egypt when God acted mightily on their behalf. It also meant that God chose them and made them his special people. God established the Old Covenant with the Jewish people at the Passover and promised to be their God.

On the night of the Passover, the Israelites were told to take a spotless lamb and prepare it for a meal. They were then to take the blood of the lamb and cover their lintel and doorposts. This was a sign for the angel of death to 'pass over' their homes during the tenth plague, sparing their firstborn from death. 

The New Testament draws direct parallels between the sacrificial lamb of Passover and Jesus' sacrifice. In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist, upon seeing Jesus walk up, refers to him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus acknowledges this connection at the Last Supper when he breaks bread and shares wine with his disciples. He introduces the elements as his body and blood, foreshadowing his impending sacrifice and showing that his Last Supper is the fulfillment of the Passover ritual. Just as the blood of the lamb in Exodus was a means of salvation for the Israelites, the blood of Jesus shed on the cross was the means of salvation for all who put their trust in him.

During this Passover meal, the celebration of Holy Communion, or Holy Eucharist, was instituted by Christ. In I Corinthians 1:25-26, we read, “In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Amidst the celebration of the Old Covenant, Christ announces the beginning of the New Covenant, which is sealed by his blood.

After the meal, Jesus rose, removed his outer garments, and assumed the role of a servant. He poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel wrapped around him. He said to them, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) This new command, from the Latin mandatum, is where Maundy Thursday takes its name.

This is why many churches have a foot washing service on Maundy Thursday. Following Jesus’ example, the priests wash the feet of those in the congregation or are the first to wash the feet of those in the congregation, who then take turns washing each other’s feet. 

After everyone has received the Bread and Wine of Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament is set apart and processed to a small altar called the Altar of Repose, where the faithful are asked to “watch and pray” throughout the night. 

Then, one of the most somber moments occurs—the Stripping of the Altar. At the end of the service, all candles are removed, the altar is stripped bare, crosses and other reminders of Jesus are put away, and the Church is left empty and dark. After a short reading about the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, the congregation leaves the Church in total silence in preparation for the solemnity of the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday.

The church doors are left open so that people may come and sit before the Altar of Repose. At the Altar of Repose, we remember Christ’s anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane, how he asked his disciples to watch and pray with him, and how they all fell asleep, leaving him to pray alone.  We remember his betrayal by Judas, his desertion by the disciples, his trial, and his denial by Peter.  And lastly, we remember how he was mocked and beaten and how He loved us to the end.

Ways to Celebrate:

Attend the Maundy Thursday service at your church. If your church does not have one, find one in your area that does.

Read Matthew 26:17-29 or Luke 22:7-38 with your family.

Discuss - What do you think it means when Jesus says that the bread is his body and the wine is his blood? Do you think the disciples were confused? Do you recognize some of the words that Jesus used?

Read John 13:1-17

Discuss - What does it mean that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet? Who normally washed feet during Jesus’ times? What does Jesus tell his disciples to do after he washes their feet?

Have a foot-washing ceremony with your family.

Eat a meal reminiscent of the meal Jesus and his disciples ate. Remind your children that this meal is different than the Jewish Passover Meal because we are not awaiting the Messiah, Jesus already died and saved us. Because of this, Christians are not obligated to celebrate the Passover meal. Jesus has given us a new obligation, to celebrate the Eucharist in remembrance of Him. We are merely remembering, through food, what it must have been like for Jesus and his disciples.

Suggested foods:

Bitter Herbs: Dip a bunch of parsley in salt water and taste it.

Haroset: Applesauce with cinnamon.

Unleavened bread: Crackers, store-bought matzohs or pita bread will all work.

Wine: red wine or grape juice for the children.

Lamb: You could make a dish made with lamb or a roast.

May you and your family have a blessed Maundy Thursday!

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