In the run-up to Easter, we remember the life of Jesus laid down at the cross and His resurrection, which means that He has beaten the power of death once and for all. There are many significant events that happened in the run-up to Easter Sunday, and a lot of these took place on Maundy Thursday. In this blog post, we are going to take a look at some of these events and what they signified as well as looking at what Maundy Thursday means for us today.
What is Maundy Thursday?
Maundy Thursday is the last Thursday before Easter and is the day when we remember the Last Supper, which was the last time Jesus sat down to eat with His disciples. He washed their feet before eating with them. Maundy Thursday is traditionally held as the day Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane and when Judas betrayed Him.
But before we get into the details, what does maundy mean? The word ‘maundy’ actually comes from the Latin, ‘mandatum’ or ‘command’, which refers to the instructions Jesus gave His disciples at the Last Supper.
Washing of the feet
Jesus washed the feet of His disciples on Maundy Thursday. The washing of feet was an act of hospitality in Middle Eastern homes, as guests’ feet would have often been dusty and grimy from wearing sandals in the streets, but in this context, what Jesus did was also a radical and shocking act of humility and forgiveness. When Jesus attempted to wash His disciples’ feet, Peter was offended and said “You shall never wash my feet” (John 13:8), but he gave in and allowed his master to become like a servant to him.
Afterwards, Jesus gave His disciples a new command: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” John 13:14
Jesus followed on from this by asking His disciples to love each other: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
Jesus tells His disciples to go and love their neighbors, and to live lives of radical love and forgiveness.
The Last Supper
The celebration of Passover was a well-known feast in Biblical times and required a whole day’s preparation. It was a reminder of the time that God delivered His people out of slavery (you can read more about this in Exodus 12).
The Last Supper, the very last time Jesus would eat with His disciples, is tinged with a sorrowful foreboding. Jesus knew He was facing death, but His followers had perhaps not fully understood what was coming. The words that we use in communion are even more poignant as we know the events that followed this meal.
Jesus instructed His followers to: “Take and eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26). Today, this is how we remember Him until He comes again, eating the bread for the healing of our bodies. Isaiah 53:5 reminds us that “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds, we are healed.”
Jesus went on to pass around the cup of wine and to say: “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26: 27-28). When He died, Jesus became the perfect sacrifice, which means that we can now approach the throne of God boldly. “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 reminds us again of the truths of the communion meal: “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.”
We remember Him and His life on earth until He comes again. So although, we remember with sorrow, we also look forward with hope.
The Garden of Gethsemane and the betrayal of Jesus
After the Last Supper, Jesus went out to pray. He was struggling immensely spiritually and physically, telling His closest disciples that: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). In the garden, Jesus faced the hardest moment of His life. He came face to face with God and asked Him to take the cup of suffering away, and then in His next breath, He said, “yet not my will but Yours be done” (Matthew 26:39).
Jesus lived a perfect life on earth but that doesn’t mean that He didn’t struggle. When we feel alone and go through hardships, we can ask God for help. When we feel overwhelmed by illness, grief or despair, we can ask God to take away the suffering. Sometimes He does, but other times we are left with unanswered prayers and questions. Sometimes we still have to face the thing that we don’t want to face. But what we do know is that God walks with us in suffering. He comes right down into our grief with us and comforts us there.
In the garden, Jesus was also betrayed by one of His own disciples. He knew the pain of betrayal. He knew what it was to have a friend turn on Him. If you are experiencing pain or the feeling of betrayal, then bring it to God now. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus is right there with you. He knows what you are going through.
Maundy Thursday today
Today, we remember the events of Maundy Thursday through Maundy Thursday services. The act of the washing of feet is frequently re-enacted, with clergy washing the feet of their parishioners.
As Christians, we also remember the Last Supper every time we take communion.
This is a great video that further explains the significance of Maundy Thursday for us today.
And if you’re interested in finding our more about Lent and the pathway to Easter, check out this blog.