What is Maundy Thursday?

When I was growing up, Maundy Thursday was one of many unfamiliar observances on my mother’s Phillips Brooks calendar.

I’m not sure exactly when I learned roughly what it was – a service remembering the final meal Jesus ate with his disciples before he died. I may have had a vague sense before joining our church, but I got more specifics when I heard about the communion service that our previous settled minister, Rev. Marcel Duhamel, celebrated each year, using our silver communion set.

I didn’t attend a Maundy Thursday service until early in Michael’s ministry, when he offered it for his first time. I had learned about footwashing – in fact I did a paper in seminary on the passage of John where Jesus washes the disciples’ feet in preparation for their last meal together – and found the idea both odd and oddly compelling for its deep humility. As I sat before Michael, my minister and mentor, with bare feet, I totally understood why Simon Peter said to Jesus, “You will never wash my feet!” It felt really odd to have him kneeling in front of me, especially in a culture where we don’t generally wash our feet on entering the house, and it was a reversal of roles for Simon Peter too.

When I took over the service the next year during my internship, I also understood why Jesus told Simon Peter, you don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will later. It was incredibly powerful to kneel before each person, not exactly giving them a full pedicure but wiping their feet with a washcloth and offering a blessing. Jesus was teaching a model of servant leadership that I very much appreciate.

So even if you really, really don’t want to take your shoes off in front of me, I encourage you to give Maundy Thursday a try if you’re interested. You can opt to leave your socks on and keep your feet dry, and I’ll bless you with the same level of love and welcome.

What else happens at a Maundy Thursday service? We use our silver communion set, given to the Second Congregational Society, Unitarian, of Concord, NH by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s first wife, Ellen Tucker to share bread and grape juice and the words Jesus said to his disciples, “Each time you do this, remember me.” Remember my message of a loving God, and our call to love one another. We will exit the service in silence, somber in the knowledge of what Jesus faced the next day at the hands of both the Romans and some in his own community. Easter is Maundy Thursday and Good Friday’s resolution, bringing hope in the face of grief – a celebration of the power of love overcoming the power of authority, and of life triumphing over death.

If you have come from a religious tradition where communion was offered in a way that felt exclusionary or coercive, requiring you to espouse a particular belief, I encourage you to join me for this Unitarian Universalist take on a beautiful Christian ritual of love and remembrance. All are welcome.

~ Lyn Marshall, Minister of Lifespan Faith Development

One Response to “What is Maundy Thursday?

  1. The Maundy Thursday service this week moved me to tears. This was my 1st time attending it. For the past 23 years I have worked Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and every other Saturday night making it difficult to attend. I retired in January. I hope to be there in the sanctuary for this profoundly touching service. every year. – Thank you Lynn for offering this opportunity, for blessing and welcoming all of us. Thank you also to Calvin for providing inspiration and comfort through music.

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