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Unpacking Maundy Thursday

by Vicky and Tim Scott

Suitable for Whole School (Sec) - Church Schools

Aims

To explore the events of the first Maundy Thursday.

Preparation and materials

  • You can choose either Activity 1 or Activity 2 and prepare accordingly (optional).
    – For Activity 1, you will need a bowl of warm, soapy water and a towel. Start by asking the students if any of them would like to come and wash your smelly feet. There is a high probability that there will be no takers. Then offer a chocolate bar as a reward. If there are still no takers, up the ante with a larger chocolate bar and/or sweets. If still no student is forthcoming, then have a fellow member of staff lined up to step in instead. The point of this exercise is to show how unpopular the task of washing feet is and that self-sacrifice is required to do this for someone.
    – Activity 2 is a simpler form of Activity 1 and only requires the washing of feet to be proposed, not practised. You could ask for a show of hands in response to the question, ‘How many of you would wash my feet?’ Then see if that number increases when you offer various levels of rewards for doing so, such as chocolate, a ‘get out of detention free card’ and so on. As above, the point of this exercise is to show that washing feet is neither a pleasurable nor popular experience!
  • Have available a recording of the hymn ‘Said Judas to Mary’ by Sidney Carter and the means to play it at the end of the assembly (check copyright). Alternatively, you can sing a favourite Easter hymn of your choice to close the assembly.

Assembly

  1. Follow the steps for Activity 1 or 2, if using.

  2. The word ‘maundy’ in ‘Maundy Thursday’ comes from the Latin word ‘mandatum’, meaning a ‘mandate’ or a ‘commandment’. This word was chosen because it is recorded in the Bible in John 13.34 that, at the Last Supper, Jesus gave a new commandment, to love each other as he had loved them.

  3. Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday, is the first of the three special days of Easter. Days two and three are Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

  4. Maundy Thursday acts of remembrance usually focus on what Christians refer to as the Last Supper. As Jesus and his disciples were Jewish, this final meal together was in fact their Passover meal. Passover has been celebrated by Jews by gathering together and sharing a special meal since their exodus from Egypt centuries before. 

    The, Moses had told the Jews to sacrifice a lamb and daub its blood on their front doorframes, so that the coming Angel of Death would know which houses it should ‘pass over’, hence ‘Passover’. 

    Otherwise, the eldest child in each house would have died – a difficult story, to explore at another time. 

    For Christians, the significance of Jesus’ impending death was highly significant – he was a sacrificial lamb.

  5. During the Last Supper, Jesus chose to wash his disciples’ feet. 

    If Activity 1 or Activity 2 was undertaken at the start, you can talk about how choosing to wash others’ feet is unusual, as the students’ reactions proved. 

    This task would not be popular now, but would have been unheard of for a rabbi then. At the time that Jesus was alive, people walked everywhere, in hot weather, on dusty, dirty, sandy roads, wearing strappy sandals. Naturally, their feet would be very dirty and probably a bit smelly by the end of the day. Washing feet was therefore a job a servant would undertake, not a leader, not the Son of God. In doing this, Jesus was placing himself in a lowly position. That night he washed the disciples’ feet and the following day he died the death of a common criminal.

  6. It was straight after this shared meal together that one of Jesus’ closest friends betrayed him in the garden of Gethsemane. Christians believe that Jesus knew what was going to happen and so he went to the garden to pray. He was praying for strength to be given to him at the time of his arrest and for what was to come. He was about to undertake the ultimate selfless act of being killed for others, despite being an innocent man.

Time for reflection

Christians today share Communion in memory of Jesus’ Last Supper. It is a time to reflect on what happened to him.

At the start of this special meal, by washing the dirty feet of his friends – a job only the lowliest servants would normally do – Jesus reminded the disciples and us that we need to care for each other.

There are many times in our lives when we may be asked or expected to do a job that we would rather not do, but we have Jesus’ example to help us accept the situation. Though undesirable, these jobs need to be done and so we should do them with a willing heart, selflessly doing them ourselves so others don’t have to do them instead.  

Prayer
Dear Lord,
Thank you for showing us your love for your disciples at the Last Supper.
Help us to help those around us and be selfless, not selfish.
Amen.

Hymn

‘Said Judas to Mary’ by Sidney Carter or a favourite Easter hymn of your choice.

Publication date: April 2014   (Vol.16 No.4)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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