Maundy Thursday is an important day on the Church calendar. It is observed the Thursday before Easter, and marks Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper for Christians to observe as both a remembrance of what Jesus did on the Cross, as well as a Means of Grace through which, by faith, Believers are able to mystically experience the otherwise intangible presence of Christ.
But Maundy Thursday is important for another reason, as well. It is often overlooked, but it is evident in the word “Maundy”, which comes from the Latin word meaning “Mandate”. Maundy reflects Jesus declaring to his disciples – both those present that evening, and all who would come after them even to this day: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus demonstrated what he had in mind by falling to his knees and, one by one, washing the feet of his disciples. In some traditions the washing of feet is practiced as a ritual. In other traditions, including our Reformed & Presbyterian traditions, we recognize that the washing of feet in a sandal-wearing, ancient Middle Eastern culture, in which the primary mode of transportation was walking dirt roads and desert sands, was a practical need. Jesus was not initiating a religious rite, but rather demonstrating the practicality and humility by which love is expressed.
This year, in 2020, churches around the world have a dilemma as Maundy Thursday approaches; and this dilemma is doubled for those from traditions that recognize foot washing as an example, rather than a rite. Because of the dangers of COVID-19, and the social distancing that is being practiced in order to protect lives, Christians cannot gather in churches. Since we are not able to gather, we are not able to participate in the observance of the Lord’s Table that was initiated on that first Maundy Thursday. (According to Biblical instruction, Communion is to be observed only when the church is gathered, in the context of worship.) How do we celebrate Maundy Thursday with neither Lord’s Supper nor foot washing?
While many have chosen to forgo the observance of Maundy Thursday, we wanted to offer a resource for families and small groups gathering online wanting to engage in this traditional day on the ecclesiastical calendar. So we have designed a Maundy Thursday service for small groups, following the pattern of Grace Covenant’s recent Sunday Worship (while social distancing), ending (essentially) with Prayer as both a Means of Grace (in place of the table) and a practical expression of serving others (i.e. the Mandate of Maundy Thursday.) We hope it is of some benefit to those who choose to use it.