Maundy Thursday is the Thursday of Holy Week. Holy Week is the week leading up to Easter. On the Christian calendar, Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus' and his disciples' observance of the Passover in Jerusalem. It is the day before Jesus is crucified. "Maundy" is said to come from the Latin mandatum, meaning "commandment."
Christians often forget Jesus was a Jew. In Jerusalem, he faithfully observes the high holiday of Passover with his disciples. Israel's faith centers on God, freedom, and covenant. The Law, or Torah, is central to God's covenant with Israel. It is also central to Jesus' way of life and relationship to all that is Holy. What is the new commandment? Quite simply, Jesus states "Love one another as I've loved." The reference comes from John's account in 13:34-35. John's gospel is the most symbolic of the gospels, and its theme is Love. In John, Jesus says,
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (John 13:34-35)
On Maundy Thursday, followers of Jesus are invited to remember Jesus' central message at the Passover: the saving liberating power of Love. The name “Passover” is related to the Hebrew word Pesach. This holy day remembers and reenacts the evening God's judgment “passed over” the houses of Jews enslaved in Egypt during the Exodus. The Passover focuses on the last of God's ten plagues brought upon Pharaoh and Egypt, the Jews' oppressor. The last plague is death upon the firstborn of Egypt. While horrific, God's act of deliverance by passing over the houses of the Jews leads to liberation from Pharaoh's enslavement and their exodus from Egypt. Maundy Thursday builds on that Passover story. Jesus' last supper on Passover remembers God's grace in a new way. At the last supper, Jesus commemorates the meal of the Passover with a new covenant. Read Luke's depiction in 22:14-20.
14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And Jesus said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” 17 After taking the cup, Jesus gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." (Luke 22:14-20)
Christians reenact this meal and remembrance at each Eucharist or sacrament of communion. Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper retells the story of God's deliverance. Jesus' last Passover supper does not cancel the Jewish Passover or supersede it. Jesus lives and dies a Jew. Instead, the Last Supper doubles down on the liberating power of the Exodus and God's covenant with Israel. Jesus' trust and faith in Abba God relives and retells the story of God's purpose and power as a liberator. But, this time, liberation does not come through death to Israel's oppressor. Jesus puts trust in another power, a power that overcomes death. The next day in Jerusalem, Jesus accepts the judgment of both Israel and of Rome. He is rejected by the crowd and disposed of by Pilate, who sees no wrong in him. Through Jesus, God is pushed out of Jerusalem through the cross the day after the Last Supper, Good Friday. ....and his new covenant to love one another, made with the disciples, remains.