Maundy Thursday is the Thursday before Easter. It is traditionally recognized as the day that Jesus celebrated Passover with His disciples and then was betrayed by Judas. The word maundy is derived from the Latin word mandatum, meaning commandment. This refers to the commands Jesus gave his disciples at the Last Supper.
The Gospels recount how Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples in an upper room. This is what we usually call the Last Supper and where we get our traditions of Communion or Eucharist.
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” -Matthew 26:26-28
While the account in Matthew, Mark, and Luke are nearly identical, John tells the story a little differently. John’s account is much longer than the others and includes moving prayers and teachings from Jesus. This is where we see Jesus pouring out His heart to His disciples, knowing that the end of His life is very close. John gives us the picture of Jesus making Himself the lowest of servants by washing His disciples feet.
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. -John 13:3-5
Jesus then exhorts His followers to love each other.
“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.”
Jesus’ command (Maundy) that His disciples love, His prayer that they live in unity, and His example of service as He washed their feet are especially profound when we consider that only hours later He would be abandoned, denied, and betrayed by these same men. Jesus knew that His followers were weak. He knew that they would not stand by Him until the end. He knew that one of them meant to turn Him over to His enemies to be tortured and killed, yet Jesus still chose to love and to serve them.
Jesus’ Holy Thursday actions say to us, “Love and serve no matter what the cost.”
This is especially relevant for us when it seems that love and service are especially difficult. When no one appreciates, recognizes, or reciprocates, Jesus still calls us to serve. When our efforts are met with thankless stares, Jesus still calls us to serve. When people are hostile and hurtful, Jesus still calls us to serve. When it is painful, Jesus still calls us to serve.