Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, when Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples and instituted the sacrament of communion. Thursday, April 9, 2020, is Maundy Thursday. Grace Church customarily observes the day with an evening service in the Fellowship Hall, and this is the only time during Lent that we observe the Lord’s Supper and take communion.
What does “Maundy” mean? Scholars believe the word ultimately comes from Latin noun mandatum, which is the root of the English word “mandate.” It is also related to “commandment,” which is where we get the connection to the Thursday before Easter and the Last Supper. Jesus interrupted the supper by getting up, getting a towel and a basin full of water, and washing the disciples’ feet (John 13: 2–20). Note that he apparently washed the feet of Judas Iscariot before Judas left on his Satan-inspired mission of betrayal. Jesus then made the statement that changed forever the way believers are to live.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
John 13:35–35, NRSV
The Latin version of the Bible has “mandatum” where the English word “commandment” appears in verse 34, and over time the word “Maundy” was used for the church’s commemoration of the Last Supper.
Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and other Christian traditions practice foot-washing as part of their Maundy Thursday services. Pope Francis has departed with tradition in his practice of foot washing. The Pope has customarily washed the feet of clerics in the Vatican, but Francis has visited a local prison on Maundy Thursday and washed the feet of inmates. Some Protestant denominations and fellowships include foot washing in their communion practices at other times of the year.
So why don’t Presbyterians and other Protestants practice foot washing? In many ways we do, at least symbolically. Foot washing in Jesus’ time was a menial task, delegated to the lowest servant in the household.* Jesus uses foot washing to tell His disciples, and us by extension, that there is no task too menial for those who name Jesus as Lord and Savior. When we interact with the poor, the homeless, and others in deep need, when we provide for those needs, and when we do so with no regard for how that act makes us look or feel, we are in a sense washing feet.
Thanks for stopping by. May God bless and encourage you as you observe Holy Week and the Easter season!
*Foot washing was ordinarily done as the guests arrived, not in the middle of the meal, so it’s possible that Jesus instructed the owner of the house where the Last Supper was held not to have a servant provide that small bit of refreshment.