The word “Maundy” is derived from Latin “mandatum,” which means “commandment.” On Maundy Thursday (when we celebrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper), not only does Jesus command us to eat the bread and drink the wine in remembrance of him, he also offers us a new commandment: “that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34, Revised Standard Version).
In my Reformed Christian tradition, The Lord’s Supper is one of two sacraments (the other being baptism). We consider both sacred because they are rituals that Jesus both participated in and commanded us to do.
The Last Supper and the institution of our communion ritual ties us to our Old Testament roots. The whole reason Jesus and his disciples were in that upper room was that it was Passover–the commemoration of the night that the angel of death “passed over” the house of every Israelite family in Egypt, but took the eldest son in every other household–including Pharaoh’s. It was the last plague and the last straw that caused Pharaoh to let the enslaved children of Israel go.
As they remembered that story of captives freed, the disciples had no idea of the part they were going to play in a new kind of freedom that would be for all people in all places and in all times. Part of the power of Maundy Thursday is that the disciples didn’t realize what a powerful moment it was (or maybe they had an inkling, but couldn’t have known what was about to play out).
One of the parts of Maundy Thursday that sometimes gets lost as we commemorate the institution of The Lord’s Supper is that this is also the night that Jesus gave us a new commandment: love one another. In the same way that I have loved you, love one another.
May we all find ways to mark and observe Maundy Thursday–a powerful stop on the way to the cross and on to the empty tomb.
Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer provides tools and encouragement for the rollercoaster ride of your faith journey. Follow me on Facebook , Instagram and YouTube. You can also follow on TikTok. Get emails to keep up with all that is happening.