Let’s face it, many of us grew up with Maundy Thursday as part of our Church life, but never knew what it really meant. I used to say “Monday Thursday” as a kid. Then I assumed that “maundy” meant “mourning” or something because I specifically associated this day with Christ’s arrest, symbolized by the stripping of the altar at the Maundy Thursday service.
“Maundy” actually is a Middle English and Old French word, which came about in the 7th century, that derives from the Latin “mandatum” which means mandate or
commandment. It is named such (though the name didn’t come about until the 7th century) because even back since the earliest Roman lectionaries the Epistle reading for
Holy Thursday was Paul’s narrative on the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper (1 Cor 11:20-32) and the Gospel reading was John’s story (John 13) of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples and the giving of the new commandment to love one another as Christ loved us. For centuries Christians have gathered to reenact the foot washing, usually it would be a priest or monk washing the feet of the poor and sometimes the feet of kings. Those who needed to be reconciled back to the church did so on this night, usually in a powerful ceremony of penitence. And the altar was stripped and washed a symbol of Christ’s pending death (read more about this here)
So on Maundy Thursday we solemnly remember Jesus’ last meal with His disciples before His death. A meal that was a gift to the Church, one through which we can participate in the mystery of Christ. A meal where He charged us all to love each other as He loves… a love that was demonstrated by humbly washing the feet of His disciples, even that of His future betrayer Judas. Therefore on Maundy Thursday, may we all remember Christ’s love for us and recommit ourselves to the new “maundy” to which we are all called.
(Cover Photo: Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, washes feet at Canterbury Cathedral).