What is Maundy Thursday? Is It Important?

by Robert Driskell on February 25, 2013 · Print Print · Email Email

Maundy Thursday is the name given to the Thursday before Easter Sunday.  It is typically a time of reflection on the life of Jesus and is usually accompanied by partaking of the Lord’s Supper.  The word “maundy” is derived from the Latin word mandatum, which means command. It is called this because Jesus, during the last meal He would share with His disciples before He went to the cross, gave His disciples instructions they were to follow.  Maundy Thursday had become an official part of the church by the 4th or 5th century.

Maundy Thursday is known by different names in different parts of the world.  It is also called “Holy Thursday” and “Covenant Thursday” as well as “Shere Thursday” and “Thursday of Mysteries”.  Regardless of which name it goes by, it is celebrated in order to commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus Christ.  Is Maundy Thursday still an important day to observe?

The Focus of Easter

During the Easter season, Christians tend to focus on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and rightly so, for it is Jesus’ payment that makes forgiveness of our sins possible.  However, too often we overlook the events leading up to His death.  Although He was fully God, He was also fully man.  He knew what His future held; the humiliation, the torture, and finally the death that He must endure to pay for our sins.  Too often we brush past these aspects of
His life without thinking deeply about them.  Let us look closely at the events that are commemorated in what is known as “Maundy Thursday”.

The Lord’s Supper

... whether one calls it Maundy Thursday, the Lord's Supper, or Communion, it is critically important for the life of the church ...

… whether one calls it Maundy Thursday, the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, it is critically important for the life of the church …

What we now call the “Lord’s Supper” is also known as the “Last Supper”, named after the last meal that Jesus had with His followers before He was crucified. While I do not recall celebrating Maundy Thursday, I remember the Lord’s Supper as an important reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.  We find the record of the Last Supper in three of the four Gospels and First Corinthians.

Jesus’ last meal with His disciples before His crucifixion took place around the time of the Passover.  The Passover was a Jewish holiday that commemorated the time God delivered Israel from the angel of death when Israel was in Egypt.  This event (the Passover) would be on the disciple’s minds as they dined with Jesus and would be extra meaningful (looking back) in light of the sacrifice He was about to make.  His death on the cross that provided deliverance for His people.

The First “Last” Supper

“And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:14-16 ESV). Jesus gathered with His closest followers (and Judas) to share what He knew was to be their last meal together before His crucifixion.  Even though he told them that He was about to suffer and that His blood would be poured out for their forgiveness, they apparently did not yet grasp the full meaning of His words.

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body’”.  The disciples did not understand the significance of Jesus’ actions at this time.  They still were hoping He would be instrumental in overthrowing the oppressive Roman rule under which they existed.  However, He was speaking of the death of His body and the fact that those who join Him, by dying to self, will have true life.

“And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.  And he said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’”.  How difficult it must have been for the human part of Jesus to be sharing this last meal with His disciples, knowing what His immediate future held.  He knew that He would shortly be facing daunting humiliation, painful torture, and the most lingering vile death known to man at that time.  The Bible tells us of His struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane later that night.

Still, Jesus knew why He had to do what He was about to do.  God’s love for humanity was the impetus for Christ going to the cross.  No other payment for man’s sin would suffice; and God’s love for us provided that payment.

“I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom”.  Even as Jesus partook of the last meal He would share with His disciples, He knew that He would rise from the grave and meet with them again. This is the hope we as Christians also carry with us.  Death is not the final curtain; it is but a doorway to eternity.  If our trust is in Jesus Christ, we awaken to eternal life in His presence.  If we reject Him and His lordship, our death ushers us into a life separated from God, from His love, from hope, from joy, and from anything that can be considered good in any way.  That is why it is called “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46). (The text for the Lord’s Supper narrative was taken from Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20)

Conclusion

The apostle Paul tells us why we should continue celebrating the Lord’s Supper, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26 ESV).  As we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we are called to recall Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins.  This is the heart of the Gospel message.  If we are not faithful to spread this message of hope and forgiveness, there remains no hope for the salvation of humanity. Therefore, whether one calls it Maundy Thursday, the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, it is critically important for the life of the church and the eternal destiny of humanity, that we continue to take part in this memorial observance.

Take a look at this related article which lists the chronological events leading up to the Resurrection:

The Easter Bible story

Resource – The Holy Bible, English Standard Version “Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved



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