Maundy Thursday is also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries celebrated on Thursday before Easter. The observance commemorates the Last Supper, before Jesus’ crucifixion.
Holy Week starts with Palm Sunday, followed by Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and finally Easter Sunday. We celebrate the Last Supper of Jesus Christ and his apostles on Maundy Thursday and reverently honor the Crucifixion on Good Friday. It is the fifth day of Holy Week and is preceded by Spy Wednesday and followed by Good Friday.
Maundy comes from ‘mandatum’ the Latin word for commandment and originates in Jesus’ words to His disciples in John 13; after the Passover, He says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you.” This weekend again brings to our attention the victory of Christ over the grave. He secured the possibility of forgiveness at the cross and the reality of eternal life at the resurrection.
During the Last Supper, Jesus offers himself as the Passover sacrifice, the sacrificial lamb, and teaches that every ordained priest is to follow the same sacrifice in the exact same way. Christ also bids farewell to his followers and prophesizes that one of them will betray him and hand him over to the Roman soldiers.
When is Maundy Thursday
Each year, Maundy Thursday is celebrated the Thursday before Easter. As the dates of Easter vary and are determined by the moon, and usually falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after Spring Equinox.
This year Easter falls on April 9th, 2023, and Maundy Thursday will be celebrated on April, 6th, 2023.
History of Maundy Thursday
Maundy Thursday is the poignant scene of the Last Supper, the betrayal by Judas, the arrest in the Garden and finally the trial of Jesus. Jesus, knowing full well the pain and suffering He will soon go through, agonizes in heartfelt prayer to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying so hard that his sweat was like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). Jesus, being fully human, of course, wanted to avoid what faced Him, praying to the Father, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me.”
But in the next breath, He also prayed, “But not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). It is a model prayer for us in that even as we also want to avoid suffering in our lives, we should always pray for the will of the Father to be done. Even in the midst of his anguish, Jesus prayed for His disciples and those who believe in Him (John 17:6-12).
The trial of Jesus was a travesty of justice, as Jewish leaders were willing to hear from false witnesses in order to get Jesus convicted (Matthew 26:59). The Roman leader Pilate found no guilt in Jesus (John 19:4), but because he was afraid of insurrection he let the crucifixion proceed. Jesus was beaten, mocked, spit upon, and humiliated on His way to the cross, where He suffered even further.
He was crucified between two criminals, one who repented and came to believe in Jesus. For his faith, Jesus told the man he would enter into heaven that day (Luke 23:43). What a powerful reminder to us that it is never too late to come to faith. The criminal must have done horrible things to warrant such death, but Jesus can wash away even the biggest sins because of His sacrifice.
Hebrews 10:14 tells us that this sacrifice was the perfect, once for all sacrifice to atone for the sins of the whole world. He perfectly fulfilled the Old Testament blood requirement for atonement (Leviticus 17:11), and in doing so opened the door to heaven for all believers. The temple curtain tearing in two at the moment of His death (Matthew 27:51) signified that now all people have access to God and forgiveness through Jesus.
The Last Supper
Jesus’ last supper with His disciples was famously rendered in oils, in the 16th century, by artist Leonardo da Vinci. The painting accurately depicts all 12 disciples present at the table while they partook of the Passover meal. (However, it is debatable if this accurately pictures the dinner. In the first century, people often reclined at a low table for meals.)
It should be understood that this painting depicts the time of the meal and not the time of Jesus’ prayer (John 17). Jesus prayed to His Father after Judas had departed and only the faithful 11 remained. His prayer was about all the gifts the faithful would receive. Sadly, Judas would not be a partaker of those gifts.
As Christians, we celebrate Maundy Thursday according to Jesus’ mandate to remember His death and to love others. Jesus was our example of humble service and it is by His sacrificial death that we are forgiven, washed clean, given a new heart, and given His Spirit who enables us to love one another.
How Maundy Thursday is celebrated
Maundy Thursday marks three key events in Jesus’s last week: his washing of his disciples’ feet, his institution of the Lord’s Supper, and his new commandment to love one another. The traditional Maundy Thursday worship service begins the Triduum, the three-day period from sunset on Thursday to sunset on Easter Day. In some churches, a Maundy Thursday service is the primary or even the only midweek service during Holy Week.
Different Christians around the world have various ways of how commemorating Holy Thursday. Most churches conduct services, mass, vigils, and liturgies. Some also follow certain traditions, such as the washing of the feet and celebrating a Chrism Mass.
Western Christianity usually conducts services to observe Holy Thursday. It includes Washing of the Feet, a traditional religious rite practice by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and some Protestant Churches. It imitates the humility and selfless love of Jesus when he washed the feet of his disciples.
The liturgical colors are brighter in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The common color used is white. Every Maundy Thursday, the fast is relaxed to allow the consumption of wine and oil. In some cathedrals, the ceremony of the washing of the feet is normally performed.