For most Christians, the liturgical observance of “Maundy Thursday” begins the most solemn part of the sacred week of the Christian year. Along with Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter, it is the best known day of the Holy Week.
Holy Thursday is full of drama. In the evening Jesus eats a last meal with his disciples and has a long prayer vigil in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is betrayed by Judas and abandoned by most of his disciples. He is arrested in the darkness, interrogated and condemned to death by the high priest and his council and the imperial authority.
The theologian Soren Kierkegaard once said that “Life is to be lived forward, but it is understood backward.”
In order to understand the significance of the Last Supper we must look backward to the last supper. It is in this meal with his disciples that Jesus speaks the words, often called the “words of institution”, that became the core of the Christian Eucharist:
He took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them and said, Take eat his is my body. Then he took the cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.
This final meal that Jesus shared with his disciples connects backward into the public activity of Jesus and then forward into his death and into the resurrected life—Easter. Jesus Last supper was to be the First Supper of the future.
We remember, but we also play it forward. We live in the present with an eye toward the future. We continue that practice close to 2,000 years later.
The practice of the early church included the Eucharist service in their weekly meetings. Paul encourages early Christians in Thessalonica and elsewhere to celebrate the Lords Supper when they meet. The first letter to the Thessalonians is considered to be one of if not the earliest book written in the New Testament, at least 25-30 years before the Gospel of Mark, the earliest of the written Gospels. Based on the Written Word, the testimony of the early church, the tradition of Eucharist throughout church history, the reason behind the Eucharist service is the love of Christ for us and our love for Him and our for each other.
According to the Gospels, shared meals were one of the most distinctive features of Jesus public activity. He often taught at meals and banquets were topics of his parables, and his meal practices were often criticized by others: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
The issue is that Jesus eats with undesirables, the marginalized, the outcast, and those that collected taxes for Caesar—money mongrels. Jesus message about mealtime is that no-one is excluded from the table. All are welcome.
There are no undesirables or marginalized in the kingdom of God. All are brothers and sisters, in a kingdom philosophy that promotes and recognizes that the first will be last and the last first.
This brings us back again to the last command at Jesus last supper with his disciples, and that command is to be followed in the past, into the present and on into the future. “To love one another as I have loved you.”
Calling this day Maundy Thursday is taken from the Latin word for mandate. The new commandment that Jesus gives his followers in John’s gospel is this:
You are to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another.
It’s not just good advice or good for business. It’s not a suggestion or a recommendation. It is a command.
As in the command of Maundy Thursday “Maundy” means mandate or command and the command is to love one another just as Christ loves us. And this word love is the Greek work Agape which means a love that does not expect things in return.
It’s a deep, holy love that accepts you without expecting anything in return. The Hebrew root word that the Greek word Agape comes from means to love deeply from the heart, not just the head. That’s how Jesus tells us we are to love others.
You are to love others. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another…