Maundy Thursday marks the beginning of the Triduum, the last three days of Holy Week, in which our worship flows in one continuous liturgy, beginning with the Maundy Thursday service. “Time is suspended as we ponder and celebrate the great mysteries of our redemption.” The word “Maundy” is derived from Middle English, Old French and from the Latin word mandatum, meaning “commandment,” the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another, as I have loved you”), the statement we hear from Jesus to his disciples in tonight’s gospel reading.
Jesus spent his entire life on earth reversing power structures through the things he did—eating with sinners, casting out demons, courageously speaking up and demanding that those in authority in the temple eliminate the destructive corruption that was destroying the temple.
On that last night with his disciples, Jesus took away the “stethoscopes” of the disciples. As he washed their feet, he showed them, through his actions, that they wouldn’t need power, or prestige, or recognition, or wealth to be his disciples. They wouldn’t need to distance themselves from one another through a hierarchy. Not one of them needed to be first.
Maundy Thursday was both a celebration of those times with friends but also acknowledgment that things would end quickly. The disciples did not always understand. At the Last Supper Jesus would be a server and servant – of the bread and wine and also washing feet and encourage the others to do the same. This was the worst – washing feet caked with dirt and grime made worse by the sandles they word. He was acting as a lowly servant so that they would understand the necessity to serve.
By this action Jesus would show God’s love and they would show it others also. " You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them."
He provided them a new expanded commandment of love one another – "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." This would be through prayer, care and action. This love is the Agape love where we provide for the well being of others. Love is transformed into giving and receiving for all including the sinner and tax collector. It is not just between friends but includes enemies.
Maundy Thursday is known for the stripping of the altar which is part of the preparation for Good Friday. After the Last Supper, less than 24 hours remained for Jesus. Indeed the plotters had to execute him before Jewish passover began on Friday evening at sundown. Our altar was stripped after Psalm 22 which starts out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Events moved rapidly – prayer in Gethsemane, betrayal by Judas, arrest, mock trial, painful beating, the trudge to Golgotha and execution. As His life was stripped from Him, so we strip our altar of the signs of life to symbolize His purposeful, redemptive suffering and death for us.
The candles are extinguished and removed. Candles represent the "Light of the World" Jesus said; "I Am the light of the World" in recognition of the darkness following the death of Jesus on the cross, the candles are removed from our presence.