“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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:34–35, ESV)
On this evening, we remember the upper room supper with Jesus and his disciples. The ancient church did more than just remember. They lived the evening through their liturgy. The importance of Maundy Thursday is expressed by Robbert Webber:
The three great days from Maundy Thursday through the Great Paschal Vigil of Saturday night is the source of our spirituality. Our spiritual journey throughout the year springs from this week, the great paschal mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, and it returns to this week to die with Christ and to be born anew in him. (Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 123–124.)
The word Maundy means commandment and refers to John 13:34. Surely the events on this night reflected the love Jesus commands. He washed his disciples’ feet. He instituted the Lord’s Supper. He gave his final instructions to his disciples. He prayed the great prayer recorded in John 17 which included all disciples of all ages.
Likewise, the things that happened to Jesus demonstrated his love and truth. He did not resist the betrayal of Judas. When he was arrested in the garden and Peter cut off the soldier’s ear, he put it back on the man and healed him. He went quietly with the Temple guard “like a sheep led to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7).
We are called to enter and experience all of these things on Maundy Thursday. The whole Church of Christ around the world joins together not only to remember but to participate.
It takes the worldwide community of God’s offspring back to the originating event and calls on us to enter once again into the meaning of it all. (Webber, Ancient-Future Time, 123.)
Ah, holy Jesus, how hast Thou offended,
That man to judge Thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by Thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.
Who was the guilty- Who brought this upon Thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone Thee.
‘Twas I, Lord, Jesus, I it was denied Thee!
I crucified Thee.
For me, kind Jesus, was Thine incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and Thy life’s oblation;
Thy death of anguish and Thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.
Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered;
For our atonement, while he nothing heedeth,
Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay Thee,
I do adore Thee, and will ever pray Thee,
Think on Thy pity and Thy love unswerving,
Not my deserving.
Johann Heermann (1630)