Maundy Thursday is the day we celebrate Jesus’ last supper with his disciples the night before his crucifixion. While it is not the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, it is the event on which the sacrament of Communion was founded. Scripture shows us three scenes from that evening:
- The Passover meal (Mark 14:12-16)
- The Last Supper (Luke 22:7-20)
- A foot washing (John 13:1-17)
“Maundy,” in Latin, means commandment. It is the night Jesus commanded us to “do this in remembrance of him.”
There are two options for families to explore the fullness of these stories. The first begins with the Passover and leads into your family participating in your own congregation’s virtual Maundy Thursday service. The second explores John’s foot washing scene. Each is a stand-alone experience. You can pick one or both depending on your family’s traditions, time and energy.
Scene one & two: Passover meal & Last Supper
This experience is best done around a family meal, but can certainly be done without it. The menu for the meal is whatever you already had planned.
Needed for this session:
- Your regularly planned meal.
- Story and session plan (below).
- Write each of these four questions on a piece of paper or a note card. Number it and give it to a child to read at the designated time:
- Why is this night special?
- Why is this story important?
- Why was it important for Jesus to celebrate the Passover?
- Why is it important for us to celebrate Maundy Thursday?
Background information to incorporate in discussion or to answer questions that may arise.
- The meal Jesus was sharing with his disciples on that last night was a yearly celebration of the Jewish Passover.
- A Passover meal, sometime called a Seder meal, tells the story of the night God used Moses to deliver the people from enslavement.
- During the meal, children play a central role in asking questions.
- This year, when Christians celebrate Maundy Thursday, our Jewish siblings will be celebrating Passover (April 9.) The dates don’t always perfectly align, but this year they do.
- In addition to a family meal, a Jewish Passover meal has several specific items on a plate that remind those gathered around the table of the experience captured in the Exodus story. Click here for a fuller explanation of the Seder plate.
- We are not recreating a Seder meal so as not to appropriate a custom that is not fully ours. We point to it as a way of understanding what Jesus was doing that night.
Gathering around your dinner table.
1st question from a child: Why is this night special?
- For Christians, this is the night Jesus commanded us to “remember him” and the last meal he shared with his disciples just before he was arrested.
- For our Jewish siblings, this is the night they remember and give thanks for the Passover. It is a very important celebration for them because it tells story of when God saved them from the bondage of slavery.
2nd question from a child: Why is that story important?
- It is the story that defines their relationship with God.
- It is in our Scripture as well — in our Old Testament, in the book of Exodus. It is a long story but it goes something like this…
God’s people were slaves in Egypt for a very long time. They moaned and groaned under their harsh taskmasters. In the midst of their very difficult existence, they cried out to God and pleaded for God to free them. God heard their cries and called a man named Moses to lead them out of Egypt and into the land promised to their ancestor, Abraham, so long ago. This was not easy work and Moses was sometimes afraid and worried. He didn’t doubt God, he doubted himself. But most of all, Moses trusted God and did as he was asked.
Moses went to Pharaoh and tried to convince him to let the Israelites go, but Pharaoh was hard-hearted and refused. God sent flies and locust and other plagues, but still Pharaoh said no. Finally, God told Moses to have every Israelite family put a sign over their door and the final plague would pass over them and only affect the Egyptians who enslaved the people. God’s people did as they were told. That same night Moses, Aaron and their sister Miriam gathered the people and headed out for the land God had promised their ancestors. They left by night, in such a hurry they didn’t even have time for their fresh baked bread to rise. Along the way they were guided by an angel of God, a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire.
Between the time they left and the time they made it to the Red Sea, where they would have to cross somehow, Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his army to get the enslaved people back. Well, when the Israelites looked in front of them and saw the sea and in back of them and saw the Egyptian army coming towards them with horses and chariots, they were very afraid.
But God was with them, protecting and helping them. The pillar of cloud moved between the Egyptian army and the Israelites. Then God told Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea and the Lord drove the sea back and divided it right in half. All of a sudden there was dry land for the Israelites to cross over to the other side. The Israelites walked right through the dry bed of the sea to freedom!
Now, the Egyptians were not giving up and chased after them. Of course, God was with the Israelites and the bottom of the sea, that was dry when the Israelites raced to the other side, became nothing but mud by the time the Egyptians got there. Their chariot wheels got stuck in the mud! Then God told Moses to stretch out his arm over the sea again and the waters came back together making the Red Sea whole once again.
So, the Lord saved Israel that day and Israel saw the great works of God and believed. The first thing they did was worship and give thanks to God. They followed God’s servant Moses. And Miriam? Well, she broke out in a dance party to celebrate God’s great gift of freedom.
Now, each year, our Jewish siblings celebrate the mighty works of God and the gift of freedom by sharing a family meal and giving thanks to God.
3rd question from a child: Why was it important to Jesus to celebrate Passover?
- Jesus was Jewish and this story from Exodus was the story of his people. It was his story, too.
- It was very important to Jesus that he, and those around him, remember who God is and all that God had done for them — to take the time to give God thanks for the wonderful, mighty works of goodness God does.
- Jesus took this night to share a meal with his closest friends, to give thanks and praise to God.
Move into a time of sharing your family meal.
Open with grace:
Holy One, Creator of the Universe, we give you thanks for the many ways you care for us and for creation. We thank you for the farmers who grew this food, the farmworkers who harvested it, all those who brought it from earth to table. Make us aware of the ways we are connected and dependent upon one another. May that awareness deepen our care for one another. On this special night, Gracious Lord, make us mindful of your care for us embodied in Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Engage in conversation using these questions or others of your choosing.
- What are you some of your favorite stories of God’s mighty works and goodness?
- Where do you see evidence of God’s continuing work in the world?
- What are things for which you are most thankful?
- What are the ways in which you celebrate God’s goodness?
4th question from a child: Why is it important for us to celebrate Maundy Thursday?
- As Christians, our identity story (the story that defines our relationship with God) is told in the story of Jesus.
- On that night so long ago, the night that Jesus was betrayed and arrested, he gathered his disciples, who were also Jewish, and shared the Passover meal.
- He then did something very important: He shifted the evening to be about what would happen that evening, on Friday and then on Sunday.
- In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus took bread, and after he blessed it, he broke it and gave it to his disciples telling them to take and eat. He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
- He then took the cup and said, “This is the cup of covenant, poured out for the forgiveness of sins, do this in remembrance of me.” He gave it to them to drink.
- His words, “do this in remembrance of me,” commanded us to take time (such as special occasions like this evening) to remember who he was and what he did for each of us. He commanded us to remember that we are God’s children, forgiven and free, because God loved us so much that God’s own son was sent to bring us the gift of salvation.
- We have a beautiful and strong relationship with God because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection — not because of anything we’ve done, but because of all that God has done in Jesus Christ our Lord.
- Tonight, congregations all around the world are remembering Jesus and celebrating Maundy Thursday.
If your congregation is live streaming or broadcasting their Maundy Thursday service, this would be a good time to transition into participating in that service.
If not, provide time for conversation and any questions, inviting each person to share something they remember about Jesus. Then move to closing prayer.
Invite each member of the family to contribute to the prayer by offering thanks for something God in Christ has done. Open the prayer with:
Gracious God, you love us more than we could ever imagine. We do not deserve your love but we are so very thankful for it. Help us to remember all that you’ve done through Jesus Christ, and give thanks.
After each person has shared, close with:
Take our thanks, O God, and turn them into action. Let everything we do be an extension of our gratitude for the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This experience can be done with an actual foot washing, a hand washing or neither, depending on your family’s comfort and practices.
Needed for this session if you plan to do a foot or hand washing:
- A basin for water.
Invite everyone to gather in the space you have selected for this time of faith formation. Begin by talking about Maundy Thursday and the significance of the day.
Then transition into prayer:
As we gather here this evening, Holy Spirit, make us aware of your presence. Help us to see and hear what you would have us learn.
Click on this link to view Ford Madox Brown’s painting “Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet.” Invite each person to look closely at the picture and to notice as many details as they can. Notice the way the artist used light as well as Jesus’ arms and gaze to sharpen the viewers’ focus.
- What is the expression on Peter’s face?
- Why do you think he looks that way?
- Who are the people sitting around the table?
- What are their expressions?
- Based on their expressions and actions, what do you think they’re feeling or thinking, and why?
- What is Jesus doing?
- Why do you think he’s doing it?
Transition into the Bible story.
Jesus’ time on earth was ending soon and he wanted to be with those whom he loved and spent so much time. They gathered for the Passover meal and during supper, he got up, took his coat off and tied a towel around his waist. The disciples were perplexed. Then, to their great surprise, he poured water in a basin and knelt to begin washing the disciples’ feet. When Jesus came and knelt before Peter, he just couldn’t contain himself, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?!” Jesus answered, “You may not understand now, but you will soon.” Peter couldn’t let it go, “No, you will never wash my feet.” Jesus would not be deterred, because he had an important lesson to teach the disciples, “Unless I wash your feet, you won’t have a place with me.” Well, in that case, Peter said, “Don’t just wash my feet, but also my head and hands!” So Jesus began to teach them more: “You say I am your teacher, so if I have washed your feet, then you should go and wash one another’s feet. I’ve set an example for you. Whether servant or master, no one is greater than anyone else.”
Jesus knew that Judas was sitting at the table and would soon betray him into the hands of those who wanted to kill him. He looked at him, gave him a piece of the bread they all shared, and told him to leave and do what he was going to do. Judas left, but everyone one else was confused. Jesus looked at the 11 who remained and said, “Little children, I am only going to be with you for a little while longer, so I am going to give you a new commandment, ‘Love one another, just as I have loved you.’ ” Jesus had spent the last three years living as an example of how to love people of all kinds. He wanted the disciples to know and follow his example. “The way everyone will know that you are my disciples is by the way you love one another,” Jesus said.
Peter seemed to be stuck on the statement about Jesus leaving, so he asked, “Lord where are you going?” Jesus replied, “You can’t come with me.” Peter pushed more — after all, they had gone almost everywhere with Jesus for the last three years. “Why can’t I follow you now? I’ll lay down my life for you.” Jesus, who knew better than Peter, looked at him and said: “Really? You will lay down your life for me? I’m telling you the truth, before the night is over and morning comes, you will deny me three times.”
Look at the picture again, now that you’ve heard the story and discuss:
- What do you see differently now that you’ve heard the story?
- Now, why do you think Jesus washed their feet? What was so shocking about it?
- What was Jesus trying to teach them? How was he teaching them?
- What do you think Jesus meant by the “new commandment” he gave them?
- Why/how will people know they are followers of Jesus?
- Why is loving others the sign that they are Jesus’ disciples?
- Who do you think Jesus meant by “one another?”
- Who are the “others” we are to love?
- In what ways do you love one another?
- In what ways do you serve one another?
- How would someone who didn’t know you personally know that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ?
Use this information to incorporate in discussion or to answer questions that may arise:
- Much of the Gospel of John is different than the other three gospel account of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples.
- It is the only one to include the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.
- It is the only one to not include the traditional scene of the last supper with the words, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
- Jesus does give a command that night, fitting for Maundy Thursday celebration. It is a “new commandment … that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
- In Jesus’ time foot washing was usually done by servants, so for the Son of God to kneel and begin washing the disciples’ feet was quite disturbing to them.
- In our time, foot washing is practiced by a few denominations, but is not widespread in many Presbyterian and other mainline congregations.
- For us, it can feel almost too intimate or personal because it is not a common practice. Some, who want to emulate this experience, will opt to wash one another’s hands.
- The foot washing scene in John is strongly tied to Jesus’ commandment to love and serve one another as he loves them.
If you and your family have decided to wash one another’s feet,
- Invite anyone who is willing to take off their shoes and socks.
- Put water in the basin and have a stack of towels ready.
- Gather in a circle. The first person kneels before the second person and takes one foot and gently places it in the basin of water and washes that foot. Repeat the act with the second foot, then gently dry their feet.
- You may want to add at the end, “Christ loves you and so do I.”
- The person whose feet were just washed gets up and kneels before the next person and repeats the washing and drying.
- Continue one person to another until everyone who wants to participate has had their feet washed.
Hold hands and close with this prayer:
Holy Spirit, surely your presence has been in this place tonight. We have humbled ourselves before you and before one another. Take our actions and use them to inspire love in us, through us and into the world, so that all will know we are followers of Jesus. Amen.
REBECCA DAVIS is the associate professor of Christian education at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. A teaching elder and certified educator, she served congregations for over 20 years before moving into academic teaching. In addition to teaching and mentoring students, her passion is child advocacy and ministry.