Folks who did not grow up in liturgical Christian churches might think that their Catholic, Lutheran and Episcopalian friends are saying that will be going to a “Monday” Thursday service tomorrow.
Rev. Leonard Payton, pastor of St. John Lutheran Church on Circle Avenue, tells them the correct name is “Maundy Thursday.” Maundy, he explained, comes from the Latin word mandatum, or “commandment.” John, in the fourth gospel, reports that after Jesus had washed his disciples’ feet, a job usually done by servants, he said, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you.” In other words, to be humble and serve one another.
According to John, Jesus gave this new mandatum while eating the Passover meal with his disciples, the meal Jews still eat to this day. On the first Passover, a good 3,000 years ago, Moses was instructed by God to tell the people of Israel to kill a lamb for the dinner and put some of its blood on the doorposts of their homes so the angel of death would know to pass over their homes. In another part of John’s gospel, Jesus is referred to as the “Lamb of God,” comparing him to the lamb killed for the Passover meal.
The other three gospels don’t record the foot washing. Instead they tell the story of Jesus taking the Passover bread and wine and saying that from now on it will be his body and blood when done in remembrance of him. Payton said, “Christians who celebrate Maundy Thursday will usually have a reading that recounts the foot washing. Then they will celebrate with bread and wine exactly as Jesus commanded. Some Christians will have a foot-washing ceremony because Jesus washed the feet of his disciples that evening, though he did not command that this become a regular rite in the same way that he did, the eating and drinking of his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.
“At the end of the Maundy Thursday service, some Christians will strip the altar bare, a symbol of Jesus’ humiliation, and a ceremonial reminder of his absence. This prepares the Church for the somber nature of Good Friday.”
For the people participating in the Maundy Thursday service in liturgical churches, the experience feels more like watching a good play — as opposed to hearing a story read to them — or even that they are participating in a historical event played out so long ago.
The Maundy Thursday service is the first in a three-act drama that continues on Good Friday with Pilate condemning an innocent man, torture by Roman soldiers and then the crucifixion, death and burial. The final act, of course, is the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.
The Maundy Thursday liturgies will begin at noon and 7 p.m., March 24, at St. John Lutheran Church, 305 Circle Ave. in Forest Park, and St. Bernardine Catholic Church, 7246 Harrison St., at 7 p.m.