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For years, most of us have know the Thursday of Holy Week as Maundy Thursday. Maundy comes for the Latin mandatum, which means “commandment.” The title Maundy Thursday is most likely derived from John 13, the Gospel reading which recounts Jesus washing of the disciples’ feet and His new command to love one another. Over the centuries, some churches, Lutheran included, have even practiced the solemn ritual of washing feet during their Maundy Thursday services.

While Maundy Thursday has been the tradition title in many English speaking protestant churches, most of Christendom knows this day as Holy Thursday. This title, consistent with the rest of Holy Week, follows the readings from the Gospels (Matthew 26:17–30, Mark 14:12–26, Luke 22:7–20) that focus on our Lord's institution of Holy Communion on the Thursday of Holy Week.

Both significant actions, our Lord's selfless act of love in washing His disciples’ feet and His institution of the His Supper for His disciples and His Church, happened in same room on the same night of Holy Week and thus can be rightfully observed on Maundy or Holy Thursday. Non-sacramental churches have tended to focus more on the ritual foot-washing, almost making it sacramental in nature. On the other hand, sacramental churches, congregations who believe in the real presence of Christ body and blood at the Lord's Supper, have tended to shy away from the practice of ritual foot-washing, focusing more on Christ’s gift to us in the Sacrament of the Altar.

While some congregations have and may reenact the foot-washing in a very meaningful way, it has a tendency to overshadow and even trump the celebration of the Lord’s Supper so that Christ’s Supper becomes secondary or an afterthought. The Sacrament of the Altar, the Lord’s Supper, is the central piece of the Divine Service on Holy Thursday because it is Christ’s ongoing and enduring service to His Church. It is Christ’s gifts to us in His Supper that truly cleanse us of the filth of our sins and give us the strength to love one another as He has loved us.

Christ’s command to love is a call to lives of servanthood, lives of service to our neighbor. This call to love one another is much harder and more significant than symbolic or ritualistic acts. Congregations and God’s people who wish to heed our Lord’s call to love can seek to serve their neighbors and community in meaningful ways in Lent, especially Holy Week. Our ingathering of items for baby care kits and our participation at this year's Slammin’ Famine, a Feed My Starving Children food packing event, are examples of heeding in real and meaningful ways our Lord’s call to love one another.

Those who have “heard our Lord's call to intensify our struggle against sin, death and the devil—all that prevents us from trusting in God and loving one another” during the Lenten season know how much they need the sweet comfort of forgiveness that flows truly and freely from the Lord's Supper. 1 Holy Thursday serves as a book end to Ash Wednesday as the dust and ash of our sin and death are washed away by Jesus’ words of Holy Absolution and as He serves us in love with His own holy body and precious blood.

In fact, Holy Thursday marks a transition within Holy Week and Lent as the first of three sacred days known as the Holy Triduum, which is Latin for “three days.” Thus, Holy Thursday not only points us to the passion and resurrection of our Lord, but it serves as the beginning of the Paschal Feast which we remember with thanksgiving the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God, looking to His cross and the fruits of His cross as the life-blood by which our Savior feeds us. As we are feed and nourished at His table, we are strengthened to take up our cross, follow Him, loving one another in real and significant ways as He has loved us.

So should the Thursday of Holy Week be called Maundy or Holy Thursday? Maybe for the sake of familiarity we will keep Maundy in the title of Holy Thursday. What really matters however is that we know what our Lord desires to do for us on that Thursday of Holy Week; wash and cleanse us of our sin with His body and blood as He feeds, nourishes and strengthens us for lives of loving service.

May the Lord continue to bless your Lenten devotion as we prepare to celebrate together with joy the Paschal Feast in sincerity and truth.
Pastor Nettleton

  1. Lutheran Service Book: Altar Book, “Holy (Maundy) Thursday Divine Service” (Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 507.

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at or at 970-305-2420.