As I was coming of age in a Southern Baptist church in the late 70?s/early 80?s, the question that one of our own students recently asked our Student Pastor, “Why is Monday on a Thursday?” never really came up. I think I would have been confused as well. Turns out, our church is not observing Monday on a Thursday, but rather observing what is known as Maundy Thursday.
Like our students (and many of our adults prior to my arrival as Senior Pastor four years ago), I had never heard of Maundy Thursday until I came to First Baptist Church of Poinciana, FL as Associate Pastor following graduation from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in December 1997. During my first Holy Week at Poinciana in 1998, I was introduced to Maundy Thursday. What was Maundy Thursday anyway? I knew it had to be about Thursday, but that was about it.
Turns out Maundy Thursday is a widely observed day in the Christian calendar — just not widely observed in Southern Baptist life. Maundy Thursday is
also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great & Holy Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries, is the Christian feast or holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter that commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles as described in the Canonical gospels. (here)
While many Baptist churches will hold a Good Friday observance of some kind, not too many will observe Maundy Thursday. Maybe that’s because it has traditionally been associated with Roman Catholicism and more liturgical churches in Protestantism. Sometimes I think that we are so afraid of being “ritualistic” that we miss out on some pretty neat spiritual experiences. I believe that Maundy Thursday is one of those experiences that Christians — regardless of our traditions — should not skip.
Why? Because, at its heart, Maundy Thursday is simply a commemoration of Jesus’ Last Supper with His disciples before He was betrayed, put on trial, and hung on a cross. Maundy, which comes from the Latin, means “commandment” and is associated with Jesus’ words to His disciples in the Gospel of John just prior to His crucifixion:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”(John 13:34 ESV)
After I left Poinciana, I “borrowed” the idea of a Maundy Thursday observance and have incorporated it into the Holy Week services of two churches that I have pastored. Most of the church members had never heard of Maundy Thursday, but they have come to appreciate the significance and meaning behind the observance.
On this Maundy Thursday, we will gather in the Sanctuary for a time of worship focused upon the Cross and Jesus’ great sacrifice for sinners. We want to be reminded of Jesus’ love, grace, and sacrificial death on the old rugged Cross. As we conclude our time of worship, we will sit around tables (as close to “reclining at table” as we can get) in our new Conference Center’s multi-purpose space and observe the Lord’s Supper together.
As we remember Christ’s sacrifice, we will ask the Lord to prepare our hearts for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. As we hold hands around the tables, we will sing “Were You There”
Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree? Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree? Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
Were you there when they laid Him in the grave? Were you there when they laid Him in the grave? Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they laid Him in the grave?
Were you there when He rose up from the grave? Were you there when He rose up from the grave? Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when He rose up from the grave?
We were not there that day, but we will remember. We will remember the great sacrifice, as Jesus’ body was broken and His blood was shed for sinners. We will remember the death of our Savior and Lord. But, we will do all of this in remembrance of the One who is not dead, but is alive! On this Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, we can proclaim as we do on Easter and on every Lord’s Day since that first Resurrection Sunday — He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!