It still surprises me how many Christians have no idea what Maundy Thursday is, when it is, or (most importantly) why it is. Just the other day someone in the community whom I know to be a churchgoer asked me what events we had planned for this week at the church (this person attends a church in town, but not mine). I told her we had a Maundy Thursday service and a Good Friday service. She asked, “Now what is Monday Thursday?” Um, no. At the last church at which I worked, the Senior Pastor insisted on calling it “Maunday Thursday.” Again, no. Most people just scratch their heads and say, “Huh?”
What it is: Maundy Thursday is, quite simply, the night of the Last Supper. The night Jesus washed the disciples feet. The night he prayed in Gethsemane. The night he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, arrested, and put on trial. The night he told his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you: love one another, as I have loved you.” From this new commandment given in the Upper Room at the Last Supper comes the name of this night: Maundy Thursday. Maundy from the Latin mandatum, meaning “commandment.” In the Roman Catholic and Lutheran traditions, it’s often called “Holy Thursday,” but among the churches who trace their history to the British Isles (such as the Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists), most call it Maundy Thursday, if they call it anything at all.
Given all the important things that happened on this night, it’s a mystery to me why so many Christians have never heard of it, and why so many churches choose to ignore it. No, it’s not just a “Catholic thing” or an “Anglican thing.” The very first church at which I ever attended a Maundy Thursday service, in fact, was a Baptist one (Vestavia Hills to be exact, for you B’ham people).
When it is: tomorrow night. The Thursday of Holy Week. The night before Good Friday. (While we’re sort of on the subject, this week is not “Easter Week”: next week is Easter Week, since it’s the week that begins with Easter Sunday–Sunday is the first day of the week, not the last. The week leading up to Easter is Holy Week or Passion Week.)
Why it is: because our faith is not a timeless mythology. Our faith is rooted in historic events: events that really happened at a real time in a real place. We remember events by celebrating them. Your friends and family remember your birthday by celebrating it. We celebrate American independence on the 4th of July because something significant happened on that day. Maundy Thursday is important to our faith because some of the most important events in the Story of Redemption happened on that night!
Having said that, if your church does not have a Maundy Thursday service planned, find one! Don’t neglect this observance. Some of my most vivid Maundy Thursday experiences are from the following churches. If you live near any of them, plan to attend:
Of course, if you’re anywhere near northern Louisiana tomorrow, you’re more than welcome to attend our service. And feel free to post, in the comments section, information about Maundy Thursday services where you attend.