Why's It Called "Maundy" Thursday?
Growing up, I never really thought about why we went to church on the Thursday night before Easter. We went to church a lot, and like Christmas, you end up going more around important holidays. But there was one thing I couldn’t seem to figure out about this day, its name. Maundy Thursday? What in the world is that? On the times when my church held these services, I never heard anyone explain that name to me and innocently enough, I thought they were calling it “Monday Thursday.” You can imagine my confusion.
While I’m no longer worried about my church’s ability to remember the correct order of days in the week, I still find myself asking the question of why we call the Thursday before Easter Maundy Thursday. In looking at what all takes place during Holy Week, we typically associate Maundy Thursday with the Last Supper, the final meal that Christ and His disciples shared in the hours leading up to His betrayal and arrest. While that is often the focal point (and rightfully so), the name of this day isn’t actually associated with this meal.
In fact, the focal point of the word Maundy comes from something Christ says after the meal has finished and Judas has departed to set His betrayal in motion. Listen to these words of Christ following dinner that night as found in John 13:34-35 (NIV).
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
In the attention we usually pay to the Last Supper itself, we tend to forget these final words from Christ before He departs from the table to go and pray before His betrayal. In these moments before His betrayal, Jesus offers a new command that, if followed, will forever distinguish His followers from the rest of the world: love one another.
What a radical command! The fact that Christ had come to love all people was evident, but now He was inviting the disciples to share in that same mission. In a world easily corrupted by sin and evil, Jesus knew that the only thing that could stand in contrast was love. And this command that followers of Jesus have tried to live out for over 2,000 years has proven time and time again to the be the thing that sets us apart all over the world.
While the Last Supper is important on this day, it’s also important to reflect upon this final command from Christ. In fact, that’s why we call it Maundy. The English word Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum, which literally means “commandment.” So whether you call it Maundy Thursday, Holy Thursday, or something else – take time today to reflect on this final command from Christ.
As you reflect, ask yourself if you’ve faithfully followed this command from Jesus. Ask yourself if there are people in your life that you’re actively not loving. Ask yourself if Jesus loves you. While I can’t answer those first two questions, I can tell you the answer to the final one: yes. Yes, Jesus loves you. In fact, He loves you more than you can imagine. As we prepare for the death of Jesus on Good Friday, this is a great time to reflect on Christ’s great love for you and how willing He was to pay the price for your sins on the cross in order to forgive you and offer you eternal life with Him. And as we reflect on that great love that Christ has for us, don’t forget how He has called you to share that same love with others. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.