"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34-35 NIV).
Some people follow a church tradition that observes "Maundy Thursday" or "Holy Thursday," while others may see the term on church signs and wonder what in the world the word means. I'd like to share a couple thoughts on the meaning of the term and a challenge for all of us regarding the events that the term commemorates.
Here are two theories for where the term "Maundy Thursday" came from.
1) "Maundy" is derived from the Latin mandatum, which means "commandment." In Latin, John 13:34 begins with this word from Jesus' statement "a new commandment I give you: Love one another." The theory traces this word from Latin to French to English and relates this to Jesus’ act of washing the disciples’ feet and also relates it to the command to remember the Lord’s death through the Lord’s Supper or Communion.
2) "Maundy" is derived from the Latin mendicare, which means "to beg." It refers to the idea of giving money to the poor as a way to show love for one another. This theory traces this word from Latin to French to English and relates it to the practice (begun in the Middle Ages) of giving to the poor in connection with the observance of the Lord’s activities that took place on the Thursday before His crucifixion (foot washing and communion).
Regardless of its origin, the term “Maundy Thursday” is used nowadays as a way to set this day apart as significant. Whether it was originally used to emphasize Jesus’ command to love one another or to remind people to carry out this command by giving to those in need, it has come to be used as a way to remind us that the Thursday before Christ’s death was important. "Maundy Thursday" reminds us of the events of the Lord's Supper, Jesus' teaching that evening (especially His command to love one another), and the foot washing that Jesus did for His disciples.
Whether you commemorate Maundy Thursday formally (church service, Lord’s Supper observance, foot washing ceremony, giving to the poor, etc.) or informally (thinking about the events from Jesus’ life that took place on this day, praying regarding these events and their meaning for your life, seeking to carry out Jesus’ command today more than usual) or not at all, the date does represent a significant part of the culmination of Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth. Jesus often declared that He had come to give His life for us and that He was on His way to the cross (Mark 10:45; 10:33-34). The introduction of what we now call the Lord’s Supper (or Communion or Eucharist), the foot washing that Jesus did for His disciples, and the teaching that Jesus gave that night all were part of His final preparations for completing His work through His death and resurrection.
When Jesus introduced Communion (Mark 14:22-25), He pointed His followers to the events about to happen: the bread reminded them that He was about to be broken in death for their sakes; the cup reminded them that He was about to be killed in order to bring about life (the promise of the new covenant).
When Jesus washed the feet of His disciples (John 13:1-17), His humble act demonstrated that He had come to serve (Matt. 20:28) and His actions and words challenged His followers to approach the world with the same humble service as their Lord.
When Jesus taught His disciples that evening (John 13-17; Luke 22:24-46), He gave them much to think about. He helped them prepare for what was about to happen and gave them hope for the days ahead. He also gave them a vision for what they would do when He was gone from them. It is here that the challenge to love one another is found (John 13:34-35).
So what is the challenge for us? First, take some time today to reflect on what Christ did for us and what He would have us do, including humbly serving others and loving one another. Second, whether you commemorate Maundy Thursday formally or informally, the events that the day is meant to bring to mind should not be something you only remember or think about on one day just before Easter each year.
1) The Lord’s Supper is a recurring reminder of what Christ did for us. As often as we take part in the Lord’s Supper with fellow believers, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). Don’t take the Lord’s Supper just as a church thing you have to do, but take it as a way to proclaim and celebrate what Christ accomplished for you.
2) Whether or not you ever take part in an actual foot washing ceremony, the most important thing Jesus wanted His disciples to learn from that experience was that they should follow His example (John 13:12-17). Are you following His example by having the same approach to life that He had? He came to give His life for us and He wants each of us to give ourselves for others (Phil. 2:5-11).
3) Knowing that His death was near, what did Jesus teach His disciples? What did Jesus most want for His followers? Themes found in John 13-17 include hope for the future, a servant’s heart, love for others, unity among His followers, trust in Jesus, knowing God, and many more. We should not strive to follow Jesus’ teaching today more than usual. We should seek to make following His teaching our usual life experience on a day to day basis. Do you live with hope for what lies ahead? Are you serving and loving others? What part are you playing in developing unity among believers? How well do you know God? Is your trust in Jesus growing stronger every day?
So once a year when “Maundy Thursday” comes around, how will you approach this day?