Maundy Thursday (“Maundy” meaning “mandate” or “command”) remembers the time Jesus spent with his disciples in the upper room. It was there that Jesus gave the ultimate example of being a servant as he washed the disciples’ feet:
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him (John 13:3-5, NRSV).
Jesus gave a new command when he said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12, NRSV). Jesus also created new meaning for the Passover when he took the bread and called it his body and took the cup of wine and called it his blood (Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20).
For this Maundy Thursday experiential service, the congregation arrives at a room transformed to resemble the upper room where Jesus and his disciples celebrated Passover. During the service, the congregation sits at tables decorated with palm branches and candles. Consider placing large pillows and cushions on the floor near the front of the room so a portion of the congregation may recline during the service just as Jesus and his disciples did.
Provide food and drink on the tables as well; we suggest serving grape juice with a variety of breads. Include gluten-free options marked as such for those who want them. Either save some of the bread and juice you’re serving and bring it out for communion later in the service or prepare the elements in your usual manner.
Place a large wooden cross front and center with water pitchers and plants surrounding it. The cross is a reminder to keep focused on the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. The water pitchers have a dual purpose: they provide décor for the room and serve a practical function for the foot-washing part of the service.
During the welcome, invite the congregation to spend time in fellowship around the tables and enjoy the food and drink. After approximately fifteen minutes, begin the teaching portion of the service.
The sermon is divided into three parts. Part one focuses on the washing of the disciples’ feet as described in John 13:1-20. Following the teaching, the congregation is invited to participate in a foot-washing experience. This will be a new experience for many. Gently urge everyone to participate, but respect those who find it too uncomfortable.
Set up multiple stations along the front of the room, each with a chair, a basin, and a towel. If you have just a few people, you can have volunteers bring in a basin of fresh water for each person. This process will take extra time, but the congregation will probably be amenable to waiting in order to have clean water. If you have a larger group, simply pour water over the individual’s foot into a basin underneath the foot. This will also require volunteers to periodically empty the full basins. Whichever method you choose, use water that is warm (but not hot) to make the experience as comfortable as possible.
If there are many people in attendance, and depending on how many stations are available, the foot washing could take an extended period of time. Singing a cappella from memory during the foot washing enhances the experience and focuses people’s attention on worshiping God. Select songs your congregation knows well. Either ask your worship leader to start each new song, or ask individuals in the congregation to do so ahead of time. Having various people starting the songs from within the congregation, as well as singing by memory, gives the worship a more spontaneous feel.
The second part of the sermon focuses on Jesus’ and his disciples’ celebration of the Passover in Luke 22:7-13. This part of the sermon is followed by an interpretive dance to the song “How Beautiful” (Twila Paris). At the conclusion of the song, the words of institution (most often quoted from Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 11:23-26) are declared and the congregation participates in communion. You may choose to have people come forward and share the bread and juice in circles, or pass the elements to each other at their tables.
The third and final part of the sermon focuses on John 13:31-35. Just as Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another, the congregation is challenged to love one another—not only those in the church but also those outside the church walls. It is by our love that they will know we are Christians.
The Maundy Thursday service closes with a reading of Mark 14:26. Following this reading, invite the congregation to stand, hold hands, and sing the “Doxology” a cappella.
I believe you will find that many in the congregation will express a new sense of community experienced through the time spent together in this evening of remembrance.
Scripture: John 13:1-20
Foot Washing with Optional Congregational Song
“As in That Upper Room You Left Your Seat” (sung on the congregation’s behalf) LUYH 156
“I Love The Lord; He Heard My Cry” LUYH 152, PFAS 116C, SNC 227
“Ubi Caritas et amor/Live in Charity” LUYH 154
Scripture: Luke 22:7-13
Interpretive Dance: “How Beautiful” (Twila Paris)
Communion (words of institution from Luke 22:14-20)
Scripture: John 13:31-35
Sending: Mark 14:26
Song: “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow” LUYH 965, PH 591/592, PsH 638, TH 731/732/733, WR 34/44//147