Planning - Maundy/Holy Thursday
- Revised Common Lectionary Readings
- Worship Notes
- Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship
- Suggestions from Worship & Song
Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14.
Instructions for the preparation and celebration of the Passover. The point of this festival is preparation and celebration of deliverance from Egypt and the "angel of death."
Psalm 116: 1-2, 12-19 (UMH 837).
A traditional Passover and Maundy Thursday psalm of thanksgiving for deliverance from slavery and death.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26.
Paul reminds the congregation at Corinth of the origins of the centerpiece of their Sunday evening worship.
John 13:1-17, 31b-35.
John's recounting of the events in the upper room focuses not on the meal, but on washing the disciple's feet and a new commandment (Maundy is from the Latin mandare, "to command") to love one another as Jesus loves them.
For Leccionario Comn Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes (pdf), click here.
Also see Estudios Exegtico: Homilticos -- Spanish-language Revised Common Lectionary resources from Instituto Universitario ISEDET in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
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Holy Thursday is the bridge service in Holy Week, and the church moves into the Great Three Days (the Triduum) -- Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday, beginning with the Great Vigil after sundown on Saturday.
All the services of Holy Week are full of opportunities to encounter and embody the actions of the texts in multisensory ways. The full liturgy in The United Methodist Book of Worship and Dan Benedict's "Multisensory Worship Service for Maundy Thursday" provide outstanding guidance and examples for larger, more "public" worship settings. The new "Maundy Thursday in an Alternative/Emergent Mode" offers a model for smaller, more intimate contexts.
The Holy Thursday service is a service of Word and Table focusing on four basic ritual actions -- receiving penitents (Entrance), inviting catechumens to walk the full Paschal journey (Response to the Word), washing feet (Response to the Word), and celebrating Holy Communion. Use "The Great Thanksgiving for Holy Thursday Evening" from The United Methodist Book of Worship, pages 64-65, or "Maundy Thursday in an Alternative/Emergent Mode." The Sending Forth on this night is traditionally followed by the beginning of a silence, vigil and fasting until the Great Vigil of Easter (Saturday after sundown).
While the Old Testament and Epistle readings for this service refer to the Passover, the gospel reading for this night does not include anything like the "last supper" as recorded in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke). Front and center in the gospel for this service is the remarkable act of Jesus, the master, washing the feet of his disciples. Historically, while Communion has always been celebrated as an integral part of Maundy Thursday, foot washing is the primary ritual action that marks this night.
One interpretation of the absence of the "institution narrative" in John's gospel is that the gospel was intended to be used as a guidebook for catechumens (persons preparing for baptism) and the leaders who were preparing them. Already by the late first century, the practice of using "the 40 days" as intensive preparation for persons for baptism appears to have been in place in Syria, where John's gospel was most likely written. These people would not be able to participate in the Eucharist with the rest of the congregation since they were not yet baptized. Nor could they join the rest of the congregation in intercessory prayer. The role of the footwashing appears to be parallel to the act of pre-baptismal anointing that developed later (as described in the early third-century text, The Apostolic Tradition), and may have been thought sufficient to allow the catechumens to join the rest of the baptized for the final vigils of the Three Days. Catechumens would then be baptized at or just before sunrise toward the close of the all-night Great Vigil of readings, Psalms, and silence that would have started at some point after sundown on Saturday night.
Discuss in your worship planning team whether footwashing in your context is the most helpful action to parallel what is described in John's gospel. While it has strong historical and traditional weight that should not be ignored, the value of this action recorded in the gospel itself was as a radical act of physical care by a master for his disciples. If your worshiping community has a significant ministry with homeless people or others who are on their feet all the time, washing feet and some basic pedicure might be exactly what is needed. But what if the vast majority of your worshiping community have desk jobs and foot washing has no real meaning to them? In this case, washing or manicure of hands might be more on point. Perhaps you could offer both or combined with some other action of basic hospitality and physical care. The test of these actions is whether they fit with the commandment (mandatum) for which this day (Maundy Thursday) is named. "Love one another as I have loved you."
Whatever action or actions of hospitality and physical care you offer, plan well. Allow each person the time needed to give and receive the sign of care. In the case of footwashing, plan on at least one full minute per person (arriving at the basin, removing socks/stockings (if not already done), washing each foot, drying each foot, placing socks/stockings back on, leaving station). Plan to have enough stations and use ushers wisely so no one needs to stand in a line for long.
Plan where worship will take place and how you will need to arrange or locate the worship space to accommodate whatever signs of physical care you offer. In sanctuaries with fixed pews, some offer footwashing by inviting people to the front of the worship space row by row, with people in the previous row washing the feet of those in the next. Others locate the service in a fellowship hall or other place where seating can easily be arranged in rows far enough apart to accommodate people kneeling or sitting in front of others to wash their feet in the rows. And be sure to have plenty of towels on hand and ways to replenish clean water as needed.
In this and all the services of the Triduum, there should be no sense of rush at any point. These are services where we are invited to pay close attention, taking everything in. To avoid any sense of rush while not allowing the service to feel like it is dragging, strongly consider keeping announcements and other non-essentials to a minimum and offering a briefer rather than a longer sermon, if you offer a sermon at all.
For the atmosphere of the worship space for tonight, think simple, but not stark. The stripping of the sanctuary that immediately precedes the dismissal in the Book of Worship is when starkness begins.
Let this and each of the services of these days stand on its own. Plan each to be present in its particular moment, neither looking back nor anticipating the next service.
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The Triduum -- the three days between Lent and Easter -- begins. The logic of Lent-Holy Week-Easter is geared to conversion and to God's restoration and reconciliation of human beings with one another and with God through Christ. Night services are powerful, so enter into the ambiance of holy darkness.
As mentioned above, traditionally the services for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil are one extended service (with no benediction offered until the Great Vigil, or Easter Sunday morning if your congregation does not offer the Great Vigil). In a sense, these are all services of vigil, of watching, waiting, praying, reflecting, and, especially at Tenebrae, Good Friday and Holy Saturday morning, much silence. So shape the prayer and spirituality of the these services as a continuous watching with Christ.
Where to start planning worship: Use the Holy Thursday liturgy in The United Methodist Book of Worship, 351-354, or "Maundy Thursday in an Alternative/Emergent Mode." Adjust the language and flow as you need for your community to express these actions well. If you have not included footwashing or other acts of basic physical care for others in worship gatherings before, be sure to prepare the people for this.
A popular practice for this service in some quarters is to offer a "living last supper" or a reenactment of the Last Supper. Note, however, that the focus of the gospel reading is not the Last Supper, but the footwashing. The primary purpose of Maundy Thursda is not to remember the "first" Last Supper, but to be remembered by the Lord who invites us to be washed by him, commands us to love one another, and offers to encounter us anew at table.
Keep in mind that realigning congregational worship traditions, especially around holy seasons, requires love, patience, and time. Listen and look for points of contact between what the congregation is seeking to do in its current practice and new (or ancient!) practices that may be more consonant with the texts and purposes of this service in the Triduum. Instead of replacing a current reenactment service, for example, you might consider moving the re-enactment to a service of Tenebrae (see UMBOW 354 ff) and adding a service of Maundy Thursday that more closely parallels the church's official ritual. Adding rather than replacing services can reduce conflict and make what is added more welcome.
Catechumens and Penitents
The Great Three Days (Triduum) are an opportunity for those preparing for baptism and those seeking restoration in the church to walk with the church in the most intense spiritual journey of the Christian year. Here is a suggested ritual of welcoming for catechumens for the Three Days. This would come as part of the Response to the Word in the liturgy in The United Methodist Book of Worship.
Those preparing for baptism are called to stand before the baptismal font in front of the congregation. Representatives of the congregation, including the lay leader, catechist, and sponsors are invited to accompany these people.
Pastor: On this night,
Jesus washed the feet of his disciples
to show them how to walk in love with God
and with one another.
Tonight, we will wash your feet
as a pledge of our love toward you,
and to welcome you to walk with us
in the way of the cross of Jesus.
Catechist: You have been learning to walk
in the way of Jesus' life;
come and learn to face death
with this fellowship of his disciples.
Lay Leader: Come with us,
that we may share this journey together.
The pastor invites all those immediately surrounding the candidates for baptism to place hands on their backs or shoulders, and the congregation to extend an arm toward them as they pray:
Pastor: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Pastor: Let us pray.
Almighty and merciful God,
through Jesus Christ you taught us to wash one another's feet
and to live his love for us with one another.
Strengthen and expand our bonds of love and fellowship
now to include these sisters and brothers
whose feet we wash tonight,
that together we may walk the way of the cross
that brings eternal life.
Appropriate signs of welcome may be shared. The service continues with the washing of feet or other signs of physical care.
You will find specific ritual suggestions for Holy Thursday worship when there are penitents in Come to the Waters: Baptism and Our Ministry of Welcoming Seekers and Making Disciples by Daniel Benedict (Discipleship Resources, 1997). See in particular Part II, Chapter 3, pages 148-150.
While Holy Communion in the United Methodist Church is always open to all who may respond in faith to the invitation to Table, it is most appropriate that persons intentionally preparing for baptism not receive from the Table until they have been baptized. At this service, they may receive a special blessing at the Table, such as the following:
The blessing of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Uphold you and sustain you
To the waters of baptism
And into eternal life.
Penitents who have been reconciled in this service are invited to receive.
Tenebrae. See The United Methodist Book of Worship, 354-361. You may follow the Maundy Thursday service with this, or use this as a night service on Good Friday.
Embodying the Word: Holy Communion for Maundy Thursday
While the gospel this night does not include Holy Communion at all, some congregations have developed a pattern of remembering this night as the "founding of the feast," pointing more toward the texts of the last supper in the synoptic gospels than to this night's gospel. Other have offered a "Christianized Seder" or other dramatic presentation as a way of re-enacting the Last Supper.
The United Methodist Book of Worship has this to say about Seder practices. "United Methodists are encouraged to celebrate the Seder as invited guests in a Jewish home or in consultation with representatives of the Jewish community, thus respecting the integrity of what is a Jewish tradition and continuing the worthy practice of Jews and Christians sharing at table together. Celebrating the modern meal without a Jewish family as host is an affront to Jewish tradition and sometimes creates misunderstanding about the meaning of the Lord's Supper" (p. 351, emphasis added).
Historically and biblically, specific connections between the Last Supper and Passover ritual in the time of Jesus are very hard to establish. For one thing, there are no reliable texts describing Passover practices in first-century Judaism. Trying to recreate it or imagine what it may have been is just that -- an act of imagination and speculation, not an act of faithful reproduction. Second, Jesus chose nondistinctive elements of the Passover meal -- bread and wine, common to all meals -- as the signs and bearers of his body and blood in all the synoptic accounts. Third, the earliest forms of Christian Eucharistic prayers bear far more resemblance to Jewish thanksgivings for meals than to any nearly contemporaneous forms of Jewish Seder ritual.
Finally, John's Gospel, which we read this night, describes the events of this night as occurring before the festival of the Passover, while the synoptics (including Luke, which we have read on Palm/Passion Sunday) place the Last Supper as a Passover meal. The point: Passover themes are certainly present in all the gospel accounts and provide some kind of context for the story of the last meal the disciples shared with Jesus. However, trying to press any specific actions into any particulars of Jewish Passover ritual of that or any time should be avoided.
The United Methodist Great Thanksgiving for Holy Communion on Holy Thursday (UMBOW 64-65) points squarely back to tonight's texts. In the prayer before the Sanctus, we remember our deliverance from captivity, symbolized in the Passover feast described in Exodus. In the prayer after the Sanctus, we give thanks for Jesus as the one who "Emptying himself . . . washed his disciples' feet."
The tone of this evening's celebration of Holy Communion is solemn, but not mournful or penitential. This is the last time Holy Communion is to be celebrated until the Great Vigil of Easter or Easter Sunday morning. Good Friday is a day of mourning and fasting. Holy Saturday is a day of fasting as well. Holy Communion is not celebrated at either occasion.
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- "A Service of Worship for Holy Thursday Evening," UMBOW 351-354
- For additional resources see Season of Ash and Fire, pages 113-115.
- "A Service of Tenebrae," UMBOW 354-361
- Prayer/Collect: UMBOW 349 or UMH 283
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Continue to remember and pray with our sisters and brothers in Djibouti and Somalia.
- "The Great Thanksgiving for Holy Thursday Evening," UMBOW 64-65
- "Maundy Thursday in an Alternative/Emergent Mode"
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Worship & Song is a new collection of musical and worship resources from The United Methodist Publishing House with the assistance of staff from Discipleship Ministries. It is available in multiple kinds of editions, both print and electronic, and online at the hwww.worshipandsong.com. As we did for The Faith We Sing when it was first released, we will provide suggestions for music and worship resources from this collection as relevant for the season or Scriptures.
"Welcome" (W&S 3152). This Mark Miller setting of a Laurie Zelman text is particularly appropriate for the beginning of worship, or for a time of receiving either penitents or catechumens in worship this night.
"Jesus Is a Rock in a Weary Land" (W&S 3074). Verse 2 of this African American spiritual specifically cites the act of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.
"The Jesus in Me" (W&S 3151). This catchy, anonymous text and tune take the command of Christ and make it a declaration by the congregation: "The Jesus in me loves the Jesus in you."
"Come to the Table of Grace" (W&S 3168). This new text and tune by Barbara Hamm, published as she intended it for the first time in this collection, is a fitting way to extend the invitation to the Lord's Table on this night and other occasions.
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