Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper – the last meal Jesus shared with His disciples before His arrest, trial and crucifixion. It was held in an upper room in Jerusalem and was the most important meal Jesus ever shared with them. It is equally important for Christians today, as it is the basis for our Holy Communion, Eucharist, Breaking of Bread or Mass, according to our tradition.
Jesus shared teaching about His forthcoming death and pointed to the one who would betray Him to the authorities. He spoke about the eternal future of those who trust in Him. He shared a practical demonstration of His teaching and taught the disciples about the Holy Spirit. He prayed His great prayer for the disciples, for those who would believe in Him later and for the unity of all Christians.
The central event of the evening, of course, was the meal, mentioned in all four Gospel accounts, but in more detail in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Nevertheless, John tells us that Jesus interrupted the meal, got up from the table, took a basin of water and a towel, and went round washing the disciples’ feet. Here was a very important message for them all to learn. No one had offered to take the servant’s role and wash their feet, as was customary when arriving from the dusty, dirty streets outside. No one would demean himself. So Jesus, their Lord, became their servant and taught them that they should wash each other’s feet, becoming the servants of all, just as Jesus had done in coming to earth. For many years on Maundy Thursday the British Monarch followed Jesus’ example and washed the feet of a number of poor people as an example to his or her subjects. After the death of James II this was turned into the distribution of a gift of money to each person. These eventually became selected from the senior citizens of the country. Now a purse is received with legal tender money in it, along with another purse containing traditional-style coins of the values of 1, 2, 3 and 4 old pence (pre-1971).
In the upper room the meal continued and Jesus shared the bread with them, declaring it to be, ‘My body which is broken for you.’ In this way He made it clear that He would die on the cross, His body sacrificed for the life of the world. Towards the end of the meal (or just after it), He took a cup of wine and shared it with them, declaring it to be, ‘My blood which is poured out for the forgiveness of sins.’ Thus He made it clear that His blood, shed on the cross, would be the means of taking away the sin of the world and making those who believe clean from their sins. In the conversation which followed the meal (recorded in John’s Gospel) Jesus taught His disciples of all generations, then and now, how to live out these truths of faith in our lives every day. Then He led the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, where prayed earnestly to His Father and declared, ‘Not my will, but yours be done.’ Judas, the betrayer, arrived with an armed body of men and Jesus was arrested and taken away.
Lord Jesus, as I feed upon You, the Bread of Life, as I drink from the cup of Your salvation, make me new, clean away my sin and give me power to serve the world around me. Show me how I may take the towel and the basin and wash the feet of those who need You, saying to the world, ‘Brother, sister, let me serve you.’ Amen.