When Jesus said, “With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15), He was making reference to an evening meal during the week of Passover. He was not referring to the actual Feast of the Passover, or to the Passover lamb (further explanation below). The meal, which we commonly refer to as The Last Supper, took place on the evening of Nisan 14, which was the Day of Preparation (Lev 23:5), the day before the Feast of Unleavened Bread on Nisan15 (Lev 23:6). I’ll answer “what is Maundy Thursday?” and share a moving and inspiring song about “The Basin and The Towel,” but first let’s remember the significance of this day.
Jesus Came to Minister
. . .the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. . . (Mark 10:45)
Before Jesus and His disciples ate, Jesus humbled Himself to the menial task of a servant and washed His disciples’ feet. In doing so He showed His love for them, and He gave of Himself to serve them. He also instructed them,“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:17). Jesus repeatedly taught the importance of giving to others and the blessings in doing so.
Foot washing was the work of the lowliest of servants. In those days, people walked long distances, on very dusty roads, and wearing only sandals. Their feet would get very dusty and dirty. So the host of a meal would arrange for water to be available and for a servant to wash the guests’ feet prior to the meal beginning.
While the disciples would have gladly washed Jesus’ feet, they would not have washed one another’s feet. Peers did not do this, and the disciples did not consider themselves servants of one another.
Jesus showed the disciples another way to think when He put the servant’s towel around His waist, filled a basin with water, and then began to wash their feet (John 13:4-5). It was appropriate that the dirt of the world should be cleansed from their feet before they would share a meal. It was also a symbolic washing of cleansing, so they would be clean and could hear the words that Jesus would soon speak to them.
The devil had already put into the heart of Judas to betray Jesus (John 13:2), yet Jesus washed his feet also. In washing the disciples’ feet, the Lord provided a true example and a beautiful demonstration of sacrificial service. Jesus said that He had come not to be served (“ministered unto”), but to serve others, and “to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
Just as Jesus took on the “form of a servant…and humbled Himself” (Philippians 2:7-8), we are to do the same. Jesus often spoke to His disciples of the importance of loving service, and, after washing their feet, He said to them:
John 13:14-17 “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
What is Maundy Thursday?
The meal Jesus shared with His disciples during the evening hours of Nisan 14 is often called “The Last Supper” and by some denominations “Maundy Thursday.” But was this Last Supper on a Thursday? The day of the week on which Jesus was crucified is an ongoing debate (read “Was Jesus crucified on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday?”). However, assuming a Friday crucifixion, the Last Supper is commemorated annually by Christian churches worldwide on Thursday night and the name “Maundy Thursday.
I remember as a child thinking that Maundy Thursday meant that we were celebrating Monday through Thursday. After all, Palm Sunday had a special name, and so did Good Friday, and of course, Resurrection Sunday is called Easter. It made sense to me as a child, but that is not the reason some call the day before the cross, “Maundy Thursday.” Maundy is not a special name for Monday, nor is it a mispronunciation of Monday. And maundy does not mean foot washing, as some might think. There is something more significant to this word that gives it a much broader meaning than just the Last Supper or the washing of the feet of others.
Maundy is a word that comes from the Latin word mandatum, from which we get the English word mandate. A mandate is an official order or commission. It is a decree, a directive, or a command. During Jesus’ last supper with His disciples, Jesus gave them a mandate to remember His death. He also mandated (decreed) a new commandment. Three times Jesus commissioned His disciples with the command to “love one another” (John 13:34, 15:12, 15:17).
The Last Supper
Jesus’ last supper with His disciples was famously rendered in oils, in the 16th century, by artist Leonardo da Vinci. The painting accurately depicts all 12 disciples present at the table while they partook of the passover meal. (However, it is debatable if this accurately pictures the dinner. In the first century, people often reclined at a low table for meals.)
It should be understood that this painting depicts the time of the meal and not the time of Jesus’ prayer (John 17). Jesus prayed to His Father after Judas had departed and only the faithful 11 remained. His prayer was about all the gifts the faithful would receive. Sadly, Judas would not be a partaker of those gifts.
As Christians, we celebrate Maundy Thursday according to Jesus’ mandate to remember His death and to love others. Jesus was our example of humble service and it is by His sacrificial death that we are forgiven, washed clean, given a new heart, and given His Spirit who enables us to love one another.
The Basin and The Towel
There are many songs about Good Friday and the cross of Christ. There are many songs about the resurrection and Easter Sunday. But there are very few songs about Maundy Thursday and the extraordinary example of humble service that Jesus gave to us.
Take a minute now and watch this video, “The Basin and The Towel” by Michael Card. Enjoy the images and listen closely to the words that remind us of Jesus’ words…
“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15)
“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
* Why This Was a Passover Meal, but Not THE Passover
The word “Passover” has been, and still is, used in several ways by God’s people and in biblical accounts. The context must determine its meaning. “Passover” can reference three different things;
- the week-long festival, which was also called the days of unleavened bread,
- the actual Feast of the Passover, which was also called the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This took place on Nisan 15.
- the lamb that was sacrificed and eaten at the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
When Jesus said, “With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15), He was making reference to the evening meal on the first day of the seven days of Passover, on the Day of Preparation, Nisan 14. Jesus was not referring to the actual Feast of the Passover (Nisan 15), or to the Passover lamb (sacrificed on Nisan 14 and eaten on the evening of Nisan 15 at the Feast of the Passover).
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