Great, Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday or Covenant Thursday or Pessaha
There is an array of events that are clustered on this last day before Jesus was arrested that are commemorated in various ways in of worship services. These include the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus, the last meal together, which was the Passover meal, the institution of Eucharist or Communion, Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane while the disciples fell asleep and the betrayal by Judas. Most liturgies, however, focus on the Passover Meal and Communion as a way to commemorate this day.
Traditionally in the Christian Church, this day is known as Maundy Thursday. The term Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum (from which we get our English word mandate), from a verb that means ‘to give’, or ‘to entrust’ or ‘to command’.” Holy Thursday is called Maundy Thursday from the old Latin name for the day, “Dies Mandatum novum,” i.e. “the Day of the New Commandment.”
According to the Fourth Gospel, as Jesus and the Disciples were eating their final meal together before Jesus’ arrest, He washed the disciples’ feet to illustrate humility and the spirit of servanthood. By washing the feet of His disciples, He summarized the meaning of His ministry, manifested His perfect love and revealed His profound humility. The washing of the feet signifies His intense love and the giving of Himself to each person according to that person’s ability to receive Him (Jn 13: 6-9). Hence this day is also called Covenant Thursday.
At the Mystical Supper in the Upper Room Jesus gave a radically new meaning to the food and drink of the sacred meal. He identified Himself with the bread and wine: “Take, eat; this is my Body. Drink of it all of you; for this is my Blood of the New Covenant” (Matt. 26: 26-28). The Eucharist is at the center of the Church’s life and is the pre-eminent sacrament. Consecrated and sanctified, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharist imparts life and the life it gives is the life of God and we receive and partake of the resurrected Christ. By establishing the Eucharist, He enshrines to perfection God’s most intimate purposes for our salvation, offering Himself as Communion and life. The Last Supper is the restoration of the paradise of bliss, of life as Eucharist and Communion.
After they had finished the meal, as they walked into the night toward Gethsemane, Jesus taught his disciples a “new” commandment (John 13: 34-35) “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, you also ought to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”.
In our Church traditions, all of the altar coverings and decorations are removed after the Eucharist is served on Maundy Thursday. Since the altar in these traditions symbolize the Christ, the “stripping of the altar” symbolizes the abandonment of Jesus by his disciples and the stripping of Jesus by the soldiers prior to his crucifixion. This, like the darkness often incorporated into a Good Friday service, represents the humiliation of Jesus and the consequences of sin as a preparation for the celebration of new life and hope that is to come on Resurrection Day.