Remembering Jesus’ Last Night on Earth
On Maundy Thursday, the Thursday of Holy Week, Anglicans gather to recall Jesus’ last night on earth by washing each other’s feet and receiving Communion.
At the end of the service, the priest strips the altar, removing everything that adorns it—the purple cloth, the linens, the candles—until the front of the church is blank. I’ve seen this done in different ways—solemnly, expressionlessly, mournfully, clumsily. My favorite was when my former pastor, who had a background in theater and a flair for the dramatic, would stomp up to the altar and rip off the altar cloths. He looked a little like a teenager being made to clean his room, or a fired employee emptying his desk.
He did this on purpose; the point was to treat holy things as if they were worthless; to approach the altar not in worship but in ire. The stripping of the altar transitions the church from the beauty of the Last Supper to the horrific suffering of Gethsemane and Good Friday. The holy Son of God was treated as worthless. He was stripped, beaten, and spat upon. We remember this and ransack the church of any sign of life.
We end Maundy Thursday in darkness. Any lights in the sanctuary are extinguished. Then, in the dark, someone reads Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” And yet this Psalm, which weaves its way through so much torment—“I am a worm and not a man;” “Dogs encompass me, a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet”—ends in trust: “It shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation. They shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it!”
Taken from Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep by Tish Harrison Warren Copyright (c) 2021 by Tish Harrison Warren. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Below are some of the major themes of Maundy Thursday. Click on the links to find the resources you need.
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