Maundy ThursdayMaundy Thursday: The Last Supper

The Thursday before Easter remembers the night before Jesus died, when he shared a “last supper” with his friends and washed their feet as a sign of the “new commandment” (Latin: mandatum novum, hence the name “Maundy Thursday”), namely, that they “love one another.”

In what became the Church’s sacrament of Holy Eucharist, or Holy Communion, Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to his friends, saying, “This is my body broken for you.” Then he took a cup of wine, blessed it, and passed it around, saying, “This is my blood, shed for you.” He told them, “Do this to remember me.” Although they didn’t understand it until later, Jesus was saying farewell to them and giving them a way to remember him.

After supper, he knelt before them and washed their feet, a ritual that many churches perform on Maundy Thursday as clergy and laity wash each other’s feet. Peter was appalled and refused to have his feet washed, but Jesus said he would understand it later, that is, after the crucifixion. Jesus told them, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13.14) In other words, they were to be humble servants.

After the Last Supper, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he prayed and the temple police found him and arrested him. Maundy Thursday worship typically concludes with a “stripping of the altar,” in which all ornaments and festive gear are removed to prepare the church for Good Friday, and often by an extended prayer vigil to remember the time Jesus spent in Gethsemane.

Copyright © 2007 Tom Ehrich