What’s Maundy Thursday?
Maundy Thursday might lie a bit outside your usual Easter traditions. Easter Sunday, Good Friday, and even Ash Wednesday services are more common than Maundy Thursday services. Nevertheless, Maundy Thursday, along with other Holy Week celebrations, is an ancient tradition, practiced by Jesus’ church all the way back to the fifth century.
Every year through Holy Week we follow the account of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection day by day. The account of the week preceding Jesus’ death and resurrection occurs in all four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), with Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, celebrating the Passover with his disciples on Thursday, being crucified on Good Friday, and resurrecting on Easter Sunday.
But why is it Maundy Thursday? Most scholars agree that Maundy (pronounced “MAHN-dee”) Thursday takes it’s name from the word mandatum, from the Latin text of John 13:31-35:
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment (mandatum) I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
In John 13, Jesus sat down with his disciples to celebrate the Passover, the traditional Jewish celebration of Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12). However, at this observance Jesus reworked the meal, instituting the Lord’s Supper and telling them a new covenant, a new promise between God and man, was being initiated with his death. This new work of God would lead God’s people out of slavery to sin, but would come at a price. Jesus told his disciples yet again that he had to die, and said, “Where I am going you cannot come.”
Then Jesus did something amazing: he washed his disciples’ feet. Jesus, the son of God, the Lord of the Universe, washed the feet of his followers like a lowly servant. He washed the feet of all twelve of his disciples, including Judas who would betray him hours after. But Judas wasn’t the only one to leave Jesus that night.
Later, while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-56), Jesus was arrested, interrogated, beaten, and jailed, awaiting his death. And what did the disciples do? They fled.
Maundy Thursday is the night of Jesus’ arrest, the night of his betrayal, the night before his crucifixion. It’s a time for reflecting on the real reason Jesus died on a cross. Jesus died to right our wrongs, to heal our brokenness, and to pay for our sins. Jesus died on the cross for us and because of us.
How do we celebrate at Vintage?
Based on this context, Maundy Thursday is a heavy service. As joyful as the resurrection is, every year at Vintage we take a moment to attempt to grasp the gravity of Jesus’ death on the cross and to remember the reason for it.
We do this with versions of the traditional Tenebrae service, Tenebrae being Latin for “darkness.” Traditionally candles are extinguished throughout the service as a remembrance of the coming darkness of Jesus’ death on the cross and the darkness of our hopeless world apart from the mercy of God. It’s a service to be still, to be quiet, and to reflect on your role in the crucifixion. By observing the Lord’s Supper together, we identify with the disciples who sat at the table with Jesus and realize together that we, like his disciples, abandoned Jesus to his death. We do this not to beat ourselves up but to recall the depth of our need for God’s mercy and the height of hope on Easter Sunday.
What should you expect?
On Maundy Thursday (April 13) we’ll gather together at Vintage Downtown at 8p to prepare our heart and minds for Easter Sunday. We’ll worship together through singing, reading scripture, taking communion, and meditating on the death of Jesus on our behalf. Come ready to worship and sit in awe of Jesus.
Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 17:31-33