Maundy Thursday begins the Triduum, the last three days of Holy Week. Many scholars believe that the English word “maundy” comes from the Latin word mandatum, or commandment, which refers to the commandment Jesus gave to his followers during the Last Supper; that we are to love one another as Jesus loves us. It traditionally begins on the evening of Maundy Thursday and continues through the daylight hours of Easter Sunday.
This year we begin our Maundy Thursday evening with an Agape Meal, around your table. Agape is Christian Love as revealed in Jesus and is seen as spiritual, selfless and a model for humanity. This type of Love meal accompanied the early Eucharistic celebrations in the early Christian Church. It commemorates the events that occurred at the Last Supper, a simple Passover supper. The Episcopal Church reclaimed this tradition in the Book of Occasional Services. It recommends a time of eating together simple Middle Eastern foods such as soup, cheese, olives, dried fruit, bread and wine. Today we include sparkling cider as well in deference to those who do not drink alcohol. We say traditional Jewish blessings over the wine, bread and other foods. During this simple meal together we hear the reading of the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John as a lesson, and part of Psalm 69. After our simple meal we do the foot washing ceremony, this year considering Covid-19 it will be hand washing. This custom of washing one’s feet was to make us clean and presentable for a meal, not to come in from travel or work dirty, and eat with others. In the seventh century many churches recovered this purification ritual within the Maundy Thursday evening service inspired by Jesus words and deeds of humble love and service that Jesus gave to his followers. In Medieval times people called this day “Clean Thursday”. Foot washing was part of the ritual as well as bathing and cleaning clothes in preparation for Easter. After the Agape meal we will transition to the Maundy Thursday service. We will do hand washing and say the prayer of Spiritual communion. We will celebrate the Eucharist when we are all back together in the actual church building. We will strip our tables at home in recognition of stripping the altar.
The Altar and Altar cloths are also cleaned to prepare for Easter. The altar’s ceremonial washing is an act that symbolizes Christ’s life given for us washing the world clean from sin. The starkness of seeing everything removed from the table, which this year is our altar, will symbolize removing the elements and vessels of the chancel area to the sacristy. This removal of items also reminds us that without our belief in God we have nothing.
Clergy traditionally wear red which represents love and suffering. Some Theologians (those who study God) call Maundy Thursday the birthday of the Eucharist.
This event commemorates for us so many customs, commandments and communal ways in which “we live and move and have our being”. We remember Jesus’s mandate to the poor and to love one another in the Agape meal. To treat each other with dignity and walk humbly with our Lord in the act of doing the ceremony of washing. We remember to give thanks in all things but especially in the themes of sacrifice, redemption and salvation identified with Jesus and made on our behalf through the Eucharist, and this year, through the prayer of Spiritual communion. We remember that we are to spiritually gather as a worshipping community and be reconciled with the church in preparation for Easter.
Peace be with you, The Rev. Dr. Mary Korte