What is Maundy Thursday? For many Christians, Maundy Thursday may be something that they have never heard about or may be a fairly new term they have recently heard. We've always celebrated Easter together. And most of our churches and communities have gathered to remember Christ's death on Good Friday. But Maundy Thursday is not as familiar to many Christians.
But you may be surprised to know that the celebration of Maundy Thursday goes back at least to the fourth century, when pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem are known to have marked the Last Supper and other events of passion week. As the idea of such passion week celebrations spread to other areas, various local rites and customs were incorporated into the Maundy Thursday celebration.
Maundy Thursday is celebrated on the Thursday before Good Friday and Easter. This day commemorates Jesus’s last supper with his disciples. During that meal in the upper room, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and gave them a new commandment: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34). The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin mandatum, meaning “command.”
In commemoration of the Last Supper, Christians often partake in a simple meal of bread and wine—commonly known as the Lord’s Supper or Communion—during Maundy Thursday worship services.
“Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’” –Luke 22:19–20
In the words that accompany the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the cup, Jesus makes it clear that his sacrifice and death is for our redemption. As he invited his disciples to partake in the Last Supper, he invites us also to a meal of faith shared among believers. By eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper together, we are reminded that Jesus wants us to love each other and to forgive each other. This is the command represented in the word “Maundy.”
As we remember the depth of Jesus’s suffering for us, the meal takes on a sadness and somberness. Yet, we remember that Jesus rose from the dead and he will come again. Thus, this is a meal to be celebrated and laced with joy.
This year may be different type of celebration during these Covid restrictions. Even though we will remember Maundy Thursday we will not be taking Holy Communion. Here are the reasons why:
Baptism and the Lord’s Supper belong to God’s gathered people—not to individual Christians. Only Christians in a local church should participate in the Lord’s Supper—not individuals or families at home.
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul refers five times to the fact that they celebrate the Lord’s Supper when they all come together as a church, as one assembly meeting in one place at one time. 1 Corinthians 11:20 says, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.” The Lord’s Supper is something we are supposed to do together. And again, in 1 Corinthians 11:33, “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.” We are supposed to wait for one another before we take the Lord’s Supper.
Paul also points out that houses are sufficient for our regular meals, implying that the church gathering is the unique place for the Lord’s ordained meal: “Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment” (1 Cor. 11:22, 34).
The significance is in taking it together. Imagine saying your wedding vows without both spouses, or saying a team cheer all by yourself, or signing a business contract and not showing it to anyone. And the “vows” we say are not just to the small groups we most naturally affiliate with, but we participate in the public act of the Supper to show that we commit to these things with the whole, gathered church that is present.
This is the reason we have decided to not take communion online, as some other churches have. In fact it has been 1 year now that we have not been able to particiapte in the Lords supper.
So What Do We Do Now?
With the restrictions in place we will still meet on Thursday night at the TEC. We will still worship together through God's word. We will still remember that Jesus rose from the dead and he will come again, but we will mourn not being able to take the Lords Supper together. There are still restrictions that are keeping all our members from gathering with us.
We pray for a speedy end to this separation and these Covid restrictions. We pray that we would learn what God would teach us through the temporary loss of these embodied, tangible, necessarily face-to-face ordinances, especially the Lord’s Supper. We need to reconsider our personal commitments to the local church. So, has NLC been a significant influence on your life? Or has this time of separation revealed how little your participation in the local church matters for your life? Recommit to the church. Be in the Word and allow this separation to grow within you a longing to be together with other Christians in a covenant community.
The Lord’s Supper itself is meant not only to satisfy our hearts with Christ’s goodness, but also to stoke a desire for when we will see his face: “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” (Matt. 26:29).
Let the absence of this meal make you hunger even more for that future meal.