Often times I am asked by church parishioners, “Why do we celebrate Maundy Thursday?” Hopefully what is written below helps explain the significance to celebrating Maundy Thursday as a part of the Passion Week.
A central portion of the gospel narrative is found in John 13 where Jesus prepares for His impending death by gathering His disciples in an upper room. There we are told that He performed the action of the household servant by washing the feet of His twelve disciples (John 13:1-17).
Maundy Thursday gets its name from the Latin mandatum novarum (“a new commandment” – John 13:34). A primary meaning of this service is to celebrate the giving of the new commandment to love one another, given in the context of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. The Maundy Thursday service renews the covenant between God and His people, as we are made ready for Christ’s death (Good Friday) and resurrection (Easter Sunday).
In this ancient tradition, the church begins the Maundy Thursday service with a simple meal and follows with a corporate time of worship. At City Church we begin with a meal in homes and then gather at the church for worship.
Our corporate service begins by offering prayers and confession and the reading of the Gospel text. We then invite all those who are willing to come forward to have their feet washed. It is a very simple and blessed time of remembrance and reconciliation. This portion of the service includes a person placing his feet in a large bowl, water is poured from a pitcher over the feet and then they are carefully and slowly dried. Foot washing is two-fold.
First, it is a reminder that as filthy as our feet may be, they are nothing compared to the filthiness of our hearts. As humbling as it may be to have someone wash our feet, through this service let me invite you to reflect on what it means to have Christ wash our whole bodies from the inside out with His true act of service on the Cross.
Second, foot washing also reminds us that just as Christ served us we are to serve each other (The New Commandment). The symbolism of foot washing is rich and hopefully this experience will help focus our hearts to become true servants for each other and for our city. A central feature of this service is reconciliation. We are to go before God asking Him to help us forgive those who have hurt us and to use us as servants to others in whatever way He deems appropriate and as His providence leads step-by-step. The point is that we must “wash the feet” of others, not just ceremonially, but in reality.
Maundy Thursday is not only an evening for washing feet but it is also the occasion for taking the Lord’s Supper, since it was initiated on that evening before Good Friday (Luke 22:14-23).
Every time we eat of the bread and drink of the cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death, until He comes. It is at the Table that we join in proclaiming the death of God’s humble and suffering servant, our Lord Jesus Christ. As we share in this feast, we proclaim that Jesus Christ was sent by the Father into the world, that He was condemned to die that we might live, that He rose again in power, and that He will come again in glory.
For many these events seem far too ancient and removed from modern life. But when we soak up the narrative of Scripture, and are willing to enter into the life of the Christian community that goes back over 2,000 years, we will see that they embrace real meaning.
During the Passion Week, Maundy Thursday is followed by Good Friday, a Holy Saturday Vigil and then Easter Sunday as the glorious day of resurrection. Of course to fully appreciate all of Passion Week, you must first avail yourself to each service. Each highlights a portion of the Passion narrative that ought not to be skipped over just to hurry up and get to Easter. Take your time. Mediate and appreciate what each day is telling us.
Let me go a little bit further…Passion Week includes more than what I have highlighted above. To say nothing of the Easter season that follows Easter Sunday and the 50 days that lead up to Pentecost Sunday. The point is that the ancient church calendar is a great structure to offer context and deep symbolism to our Christian faith that connects us to the church that goes back 2,000 years. My prayer is that you will benefit from these ancient practices as the Lord allows you the freedom and joy to pursue them in ways appropriate to your faith in Christ as our Lord and Savior.