Today is Maundy Thursday in Holy Week. What does it mean? How can we as Christians best observe it?
Webster's dictionary is a great help in defining words. I was delighted to see that this prestigious reference work entered the term in capital letters, MAUNDY THURSDAY, indicating its significance. I found that it stems from Middle English, 'maunde'- the ceremony of washing the feet of the poor on this day before Easter, an early church practice. The Old French word for it was mande, from the Latin mandatum, which means command.
All of this stems back to Jesus' last night with his disciples before his trial, crucifixion and resurrection. In an upper room in Jerusalem, Jesus washed his disciples' feet.
He also instituted the Lord's Supper. He gave His disciples a mandatum, we would say, a mandate, to do the Supper in remembrance of Him. As he washed the disciples' feet, He said, "Ye ought also to wash each other's feet." (John 13: 14) John 13:34-35 gave another mandate from Jesus: "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you; that ye also love one another."
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another."
These mandates from Jesus on that long ago Thursday (whether they called the day Thursday then or not) were acts of humility and obedience. And as we in our churches observe Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, we are drawing from the teachings and commandments of Jesus to examine what it means to be His disciple and what true servanthood is all about.
I read recently these words: "Without Christmas we could not have Easter. But without Easter, Christmas would be of little significance."
In the church's holy calendar, we observe many traditions. The traditions were set up by our Lord and our spiritual forebears for reasons of remembrance. Even Christ Himself knew that we needed dates and ceremonies to bring to mind the dynamic, even revolutionary, teachings He left for His disciples of any age to follow.
Most of us in this mountain region can look back upon our "raising" and be grateful. Our parents and grandparents, even our great grandparents felt that a part of a steadfast life was a strong faith. Most of us were "brought up" in the church. How well do I remember how joyous Easter was in my country church, Choestoe. I cannot recall our observing Maundy Thursday when I was a child, but certainly Easter was one of the high holy days.
I remember how cold it was the first sunrise service I attended on a hill in a neighbor's pasture. We stood there hearing the words of our pastor as he read the accounts of those who came early to the tomb to find it empty. "From darkness to light, from death to resurrection!" It was a climactic moment as the sun rose gloriously over the eastern hills, dispelling the darkness of that early morning. It was not hard at all for a young child to imagine being at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem to find the grave empty.
Later on, at the morning worship service on those long ago Easter Sundays we enjoyed joyous occasions of happy music and wonderful encouragement. Death was but a passageway to eternal life. It was a concept wrapped up in Easter and new life all about us as Spring in its glory reflected a truth almost too deep to understand.
Leading up to Easter is Maundy Thursday, with its remembrances of foot washing and the Lord's Supper, helping to keep us attuned to holy promises, holy mandates. The Lord Christ willingly did what He came to earth to do. What He commanded His disciples is still taking place around the world, awaiting the one promise He has yet to fulfill: "I will return."
I like to consider the act of washing the disciples' feet on that long ago Maundy Thursday as being the humble service Christ assigns us to do. This washing can take the form of clothing the poor, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, comforting the dying-and, yes, washing the feet of those who need this balm.
In a letter recently from missionary friends who work as doctors in Bolivia, they asked us to pray as they go out on the streets to actually "wash the babies," the many displaced children. As they bathe dirty bodies and give medications, they minister with "the hands of Christ."
Maundy Thursday is a day for soul-searching and good deeds. We have a mandate to live out, an example to follow. I invite you to "think on these things," and have a meaningful Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.
c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Apr. 13, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.