Maundy Thursday is observed during Holy Week on the Thursday before Easter.
Also referred to as “Holy Thursday” or “Great Thursday” in some denominations, Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper when Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples on the night before he was crucified.
In contrast to joyful Easter celebrations when Christians worship their resurrected Savior, Maundy Thursday services are typically more solemn occasions, marked by the shadow of Jesus’ betrayal.
While different denominations observe Maundy Thursday in their own distinct ways, two important biblical events are the primary focus of Maundy Thursday solemnizations.
Jesus Washed the Disciples Feet
Before the Passover meal, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples:
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.
Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.
The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.
After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:1-5, NIV84)
Christ’s act of humility was so out of the ordinary—a reversal of normal roles—that it stunned the disciples.
By performing this lowly foot-washing service, Jesus showed the disciples “the full extent of his love.”
He demonstrated how believers are to love one another through sacrificial, humble service.
This kind of love is agape love—love that is not an emotion but an attitude of heart that results in action.
This is why many Christian churches practice foot-washing ceremonies as a part of their Maundy Thursday services.
Jesus Instituted Communion
During the Passover meal, Jesus took bread and wine and asked his heavenly Father to bless it:
He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it.
Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying,
“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
After supper he took another cup of wine and said,
“This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.”
(Luke 22:17–20, NLT)
This passage describes the Last Supper, which forms the biblical basis for the practice of Communion.
For this reason, many churches hold special Communion services as a part of their Maundy Thursday celebrations.
Likewise, many congregations observe a traditional Passover Seder meal.
The Passover and Communion
The Jewish Passover commemorates the Israelite liberation from slavery in Egypt as recorded in the book of Exodus.
The Lord used Moses to rescue his people from bondage by sending ten plagues to persuade Pharaoh to let the people go.
With the final plague, God promised to strike dead every firstborn child in Egypt.
To spare his people, he provided instructions to Moses.
Each Hebrew family was to take a Passover lamb, slaughter it, and place some of the blood on the door frames of their homes.
When the destroyer passed over Egypt, he would not enter the homes covered by the blood of the Passover lamb.
These and other instructions became part of a lasting ordinance from God for the observance of the Passover Feast, so that the generations to come would always remember God’s great deliverance.
That night God’s people were delivered from the plague and escaped Egypt in one of the most dramatic miracles of the Old Testament, the parting of the Red Sea.
On this first Passover, God commanded Israel to always remember his deliverance by sharing in a Passover meal.
When Jesus celebrated the Passover with his apostles, he said:
“I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”
(Luke 22:15-16, Jesus fulfilled the Passover with his death as the Lamb of God.
At his final Passover Feast, he instructed his followers to continually remember his sacrifice and great deliverance through The Lord’s Supper or Communion.
What Does “Maundy” Mean?
Derived from the Latin word mandatum, meaning “commandment,” Maundy refers to the commands Jesus gave his disciples at the Last Supper: to love with humility by serving one another and to remember his sacrifice.