An Introduction to Holy Week: Maundy Thursday

A series of three services over three days mark the heart of Holy Week. In Latin these three days are called the “Triduum” (which simply means “the three days”). These final days of Holy Week are the most sacred in the Christian calendar. This week before Holy Week I will be posting a simple meditation about each service, and how we remember the Jesus in the Triduum.

Maundy Thursday starts the cycle. On Thursday evening of Holy Week at 7pm, the church community gathers to remember Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. We call to mind the night that we remember week in and week out in the Eucharist, and Jesus’ words about the bread and wine: “this is my body, and this is my blood.” The word “maundy” in old English means “Mandate” or “command.” There are actually two commands on Maunday Thursday, and they are connected.

The first command is the Eucharist: “Do this” Jesus says, “in rememberance of me.” In his classic work on Communion, “The Shape of the Liturgy” the Anglican Theologian Gregory Dix wrote:

“Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and every country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance…[people] have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold.”

Indeed, this mandate to remember Christ in the Eucharist continues to shape the life of millions across the planet week in and week out.

There is a second, and I would argue deeply connected commandment. On Maundy Thursday we read John’s account of the last supper. John doesn’t mention bread and wine. Instead the action centers around Jesus’ washing the disciples feet. Jesus says, “if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” The teacher spends his last night with the disciples connecting the dots. To remember Jesus is to serve another.

On Thursday at church, we will gather to celebrate Eucharist, to remember Jesus, and to wash one another’s feet. After the Eucharist, we reserve the sacrament in the chapel, which is decorated to remind us of the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus went to pray after the Last Supper. Some of the congregation may choose to pray awhile with the reserve sacrament on Thursday night. The service will conclude with stripping the altar, taking away every decoration that isn’t bolted down. We empty the sanctuary to prepare ourselves for the stark reality of Good Friday.