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What Is Maundy Thursday?

Within the midst of the Easter season, Maundy Thursday — the Thursday before Easter — is one Christian holy day that many Christians and even many churches often overlook, yet it symbolizes a critically important truth of the Christian faith: Jesus as a suffering servant and the call for his followers to do the same. It also draws a connection between the Passover sacrifice, a Jewish tradition, and Jesus Christ’s sacrificial role on the cross.

The night before Jesus was crucified, he had a Passover supper with his disciples. (Passover is a Jewish holy day that celebrates God’s deliverance of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt.) After supper, Jesus knew that this would be his final opportunity to instruct his disciples before the crucifixion, so he talked at length about his purposes, what his followers should do in response, and the promise of the Holy Spirit to come. He then washed his disciples’ feet in an incredible demonstration of humility and servanthood. Finally, he gave bread and wine to his disciples and asked them to partake of it in remembrance of him. The act of partaking bread and wine is called Communion (or the Last Supper) today.

The word Maundy (pronounced mawn-dee) comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means “command.” The command that this holy day refers to is the one that Jesus gave to his disciples during the Last Supper:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just like I have loved you; that you also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34–35

Along this line, many churches perform foot-washing services on Maundy Thursday as a way to remember Jesus’ command.

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During the Middle Ages, the holy day was sometimes called Shere Thursday; shere means “pure.” In England during this time, bearded men found another reason for that name when they sheared their beards on Maundy Thursday as a symbol of the cleansing of body and soul before Easter.

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