A Reflection on Maundy Thursday

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

As I write this, it’s early afternoon on Maundy Thursday. We’ll host a service in a few hours that remembers and celebrates the Last Supper, Jesus' final meal with his disciples before he was crucified. Tonight we’ll eat the bread and drink the cup and remember the sacrifice of body and blood.

And I’ll let you in on a secret. More than most nights, more than most services, I want the experience of worship tonight to be perfect. As a minister, this might be my favorite day of the year, because it’s at about this time each year—Thursday afternoon of Holy Week—that the sacredness of these days settles into my bones and invades my spirit.

Right now, the office is quiet. It seems like there are fewer visitors and fewer phone calls than usual. But in a few hours, once the Maundy Thursday service starts, it will be a bit of a whirlwind of final preparation for Easter Egg Hunts and Good Friday services and Easter morning celebrations.

But in the middle of it all, if our hearts are tuned just right, a still and quiet darkness will settle over our lives this weekend like a shroud. I'm starting to feel that way right now.

In the calm and quiet of Thursday afternoon, at least for me, the holiness sets in. Thursday night of Holy Week is the night when Jesus is betrayed and arrested, and it is the most pivotal evening of Jesus’ ministry. If we believe that Jesus has a real choice to make tonight--and I do--then tonight is the night on which all other nights of human history hinge.

Tonight Jesus makes a choice that gives meaning and direction to every choice you or I will ever make. And that’s no overstatement. My choices today have meaning because Jesus chose to be arrested and tried, convicted and crucified, buried and raised from the dead. Your choices have real purpose behind them that would be absent were it not for Jesus’ choice on the Thursday night of Holy Week 2000 years ago.

There are special inflection points in every journey, thresholds from which there is no going back and beyond which everything we've ever experienced will be experienced differently. Tonight is the greatest of inflection points. Maundy Thursday is the point of no return.

And tonight Jesus teaches us two things. We should remember them.

First, remember the commandment to love one another. Jesus chooses to give his disciples a new commandment tonight, and it is simply the instruction to love each other. So love each other.

And, second, remember Christ's agonizingly difficult, but ultimately world-changing decision to put God’s will for his life ahead of his own (Luke 22:39-44), and commit to doing everything you can to do the same in your life. If putting God's will first in your life sounds like a big decision, it is. Jesus sweated blood over it. You might, too. But tonight is a night for big decisions.

As much as we may like to pretend otherwise, we don't struggle so much to know the will of God as we struggle to do the will of God. Tonight we are reminded that Jesus struggled with that, too. But his ability to put God’s will first—and your willingness to do the same—makes all the difference.

So tonight we stand on a threshold. The heavens are ripped open and we stand with one foot each in two different worlds—the world we have known and the coming Kingdom of God. As good as God’s kingdom is, the specter of its presence can be intimidating, so the temptation to step back from the edge is great. But the promise waiting on the other side is greater. 

So on the night that shapes all other nights, remember these two things. Love each other like God loves you. And follow Christ in taking the hard step of putting God’s will first. Just do those two things. In the end, there really are no other decisions to be made in this life.

One last thing. Jesus told us to gather for this meal—to re-enact it together in remembrance of him. Tonight with faith and hope we get to gather at churches all over the world and do just exactly what Jesus commanded us to do.

Let that sink in. Tonight we get to very concretely follow a direct commandment from God. What a holy moment. What a holy night! There’s a lot out there for us this weekend. Don’t miss it.

Happy Easter.