We’re coming up on Easter weekend. There are Good Friday services planned, Saturday is the Sabbath day to many Jews, and Easter Sunday services that many families will attend together, it’s a busy time of the year no matter what denomination you are in. What seems to be lost in all of this is what is sometimes called Maundy Thursday. Not as much is heard about this day, nor is it frequently celebrated by a church service of any kind. And even when there is a service, it just seems like the true meaning of this day is lost in rituals. Yet, this day is just as important as any of the other days ahead.
Let’s take a look into Maundy Thursday and what it’s all about.
Maundy – really isn’t a word we hear very often so I’m sure very few know what it means. Maundy is derived from the Latin word mandatum, meaning “commandment.” Near the end of the Last Supper, Christ said to His disciples, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13:34).
Maundy refers to the commands Jesus gave his disciples at the Last Supper: to serve one another with humility, to remember his sacrifice, and to love one another.
I give you a new commandment: that you should love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too should love one another. … By this shall all [men] know that you are My disciples, if you love one another [if you keep on showing love among yourselves].
In Bible times, days ran from evening to evening. I guess, in a way, it does now too from Midnight to Midnight, but in Jewish tradition, it ran from sundown to sundown. So Thursday would have been from sundown Wednesday to sundown Thursday. Here is a text to help you understand this: “The Jewish calendar date begins at sundown of the night beforehand.”
That Passover doesn’t always start on the same day of the week. The day of Easter has been fixed to a Sunday now, but the Passover falls on the Hebrew calendar dates of Nissan 15-22 – which can start on any day of the week. In the time the Bible text about Jesus’s Crucifixion was written, it happened to begin on a Friday (remember that is sundown Thursday to sundown Friday).
That Thursday (sundown Wednesday to sundown Thursday) was the day of the “Last Supper.” We know this because of the text which points out when Passover was and when the Sabbath was. It would have been customary for Jesus to be fasting on that day:
It is customary for the first-born male of every family to fast the day before Passover, since the first-born were killed in the last of the Ten Plagues. Many men do not fast on this day because they attend a celebration of the completion of the Talmud instead. Attendance at this celebration allows the fast to be broken.
There is significance of the bread and wine at the meal which had to do with something that happened long, long before this night – over 400 years before.
The primary observances of Passover are related to the Exodus from Egypt after 400 years of slavery. This story is told in Exodus, Ch. 1-15. Many of the Passover observances are instituted in Chs. 12-15.
If you want to know what actually happened on what we now call Maundy Thursday, you can read the whole text Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22;John 13; John 18 but here are some highlights:
When it was evening, He was reclining at table with the twelve disciples. And as they were eating, He said, Solemnly I say to you, one of you will betray Me!
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread and, praising God, gave thanks and asked Him to bless it to their use, and when He had broken it, He gave it to the disciples and said, Take, eat; this is My body. And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, Drink of it, all of you; For this is My blood of the new covenant, which [ratifies the agreement and] is being poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
[That] Jesus, knowing (fully aware) that the Father had put everything into His hands, and that He had come from God and was [now] returning to God, Got up from supper, took off His garments, and taking a [servant’s] towel, He fastened it around His waist. Then He poured water into the wash basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the [servant’s] towel with which He was girded. … So when He had finished washing their feet and had put on His garments and had sat down again, He said to them, Do you understand what I have done to you? You call Me the Teacher (Master) and the Lord, and you are right in doing so, for that is what I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher (Master), have washed your feet, you ought [it is your duty, you are under obligation, you owe it] to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you this as an example, so that you should do [in your turn] what I have done to you.
It is interesting that the majority of churches hold to the ritual of serving the communion elements, yet leave out the feet washing part. But there was significance in the feet washing.
You do not understand now what I am doing, but you will understand later on. … Unless I wash you, you have no part with (in) Me [you have no share in companionship with Me].
The significance would be revealed later when Christ was hung on a cross.
No one has greater love [no one has shown stronger affection] than to lay down (give up) his own life for his friends. You are My friends if you keep on doing the things which I command you to do.