What the Heck is Maundy Thursday?

Text(s): Matthew 26: 21-29, Mark 14: 18-25, Luke 22: 15-23, and John 13: 1-20.

On Sunday, we entered into Holy Week. We entered into the experience and the journey to the Passion, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

On Sunday, we welcomed Christ into our midst, waving palm branches, while the symbols of Christ were ushered into the sanctuary: the cross, the waters of baptism, the chalet and plate, the Holy Scriptures, and light. This was a greeting, a welcome that was fit for a king.

In the gospel accounts, Christ enters the Temple in Jerusalem. He drives out those conducting business, the venders and consumers alike. He flips over the tables of the money changers. He teaches about the corruption of the Temple into a den of robbers instead of the intended house of prayer.

This intense, pivotal moment in the gospel accounts is embellished for dramatic effect. The historical reality is that the dramatic scene was milder, perhaps symbolic, because, the Roman authorities were suspicious of the multitude of Jewish people traveling into Jerusalem to celebration the Passover. Their suspicion was firmly rooted in previous revolt attempts. The Roman authorities had increased the military, security forces in Jerusalem for this festival. Thus, if the depicted scene occurred, Jesus would have been arrested and contained immediately for disputing the peace.

Yet, Jesus’ actions in the Temple most have merited the attention of the Jewish religious authorities, because the chief priests and their scribes approach Jesus and question the source of his authority to teach, to preach, and to heal. Jesus employs wit, I imagine with a grin, avoids providing an answer to their question, and then departs to Bethany for the evening.

This pivotal encounter ignited the chief priests and scribes to conspire against this Rabbi, this prophet Jesus of Nazareth.

These chief priests and the scribes, sought to entrap Jesus on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. They sought to entrap him in a statement that would be punishable, preferably punishable by death.

The disciples of the chief priests questioned Jesus regarding whether it was lawful or not to pay tribute, or taxes, to Caesar. Jesus inquires to whose image and title is imprinted on the coinage, these individuals reply “Caesar”. Jesus answers, “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s”.

Then the scribes (or lawyers) questioned Jesus regarding the Law, particularly the Ten Commandments. Their question was “which of the commandments is the greatest”? Jesus employs wit again and summarizes the entirety of the Law, responding:

(1) to love God with all your mind, heart, and soul

(2) to love your neighbor as yourself.

Then Thursday arrives, Maundy Thursday. But, what the heck is Maundy Thursday?

Judas Iscariot, a disciple in the intimate core of twelve, inquires has to the price the religious authorities were able and willing pay for his betrayal of Jesus. The price is 30 pieces of silver.

According John’s gospel, our text this evening, Jesus and the disciples were partaking in a meal. Jesus stands up, removes his outer cloak, wraps a towel around his waist, and begins to wash the feet of his disciples.

The practice of foot-washing was common in this era. The host would arrange for a servant to wash the feet of their guests, because long travels on roads of dirt with sandals on the feet, equal dirty, dusty feet. Jesus, however, is the host and the servant in this narrative. Jesus sets an example for his people, his friends, and his disciples.

Then, Jesus announces his impending betrayal. According to John’s gospel, Jesus even indicts that Judas will betray him with the dipping of bread into wine before serving it to him. Afterward, Judas departs and Jesus gives the remaining 11 disciples a new commandment: “to love one another as I first loved you”.

Because of this text, there are congregations that engage in foot-washing on Maundy Thursday. If the thought of foot-washing is unpleasant to you, fear not for we are not engaging in this ancient practice tonight.

The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) offer another narrative for Maundy Thursday. It was the evening of the Passover Seder.

The Passover Seder is a significant, ritualistic meal in the tradition of Judaism. The Seder meal is composed of fifteen rituals, arranged in three larger sections. The entirety of the Seder meal is to recall the Israelite enslavement in Egypt, their deliverance by the hand of God, and their hope that the Messiah will come in the year at hand.

According to the synoptic gospels, Jesus and the disciples were concluding the Seder meal. Jesus lifts the unleavened, matzoh bread for the final blessing and distribution but concludes with untraditional words: “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Then Jesus lifts the fourth and final glass of wine for blessing and distribution, but again he concludes with words that are not traditionally spoken: “This cup that is poured out for you is a new covenant in my blood”.

Then, Jesus announces his impending betrayal and that the betrayer is in their midst.

Because of these texts, there are congregations that engage in the Seder meal or a worship concluding in Holy Communion. We will partake in Holy Communion in a moment.

We, as a congregation, partake in Holy Communion each week. We hear the words spoken. We taste the bread and the wine or grape juice.

But, how do we enter into this final meal with Christ and his disciples? How are we transformed in the bread, the wine, and the presence of Christ?

I have witnessed those who come forth with their hands lifted up, their faces to the ground, and an expression of unworthiness on their faces. I have witnessed those who come forth, take the bread and the wine, but are not present in the moment.

But this is the meal that strengthens and incites us in our Christian vocation to host and to serve our neighbors near and far…an vocation that requires energy, strength, boldness, grace and mercy, love and most of all joy.

I have two images to leave you pondering on this evening.

The first image:

I have a fellow seminarian, whose young niece had not been permitted to partake in Holy Communion. One Sunday morning, her niece ran to the altar, grabs the loaf of bread, and begun to shout “I got it, I got it”.

The second image:

A teacher’s aide at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary had written her dissertation on Holy Communion. She used an image from the ever-popular show Friends.

Phoebe and Rachael decide to run together in the park for exercise. Rachael is running with proper form and is embarrassed by Phoebe. Phoebe is excitedly running with her arms and legs flinging around in ever which direction like a little child.

May we all come to the presence of Christ in the bread and wine with joy shouting “I got it, I got it”.

And may we leave the table, filled with the presence, love, and grace of God to run like Phoebe from this sanctuary strengthened and incited to serve our neighbor…near and far.


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