The Thursday before Easter is called Maundy Thursday, from the Latin mandatum novum, "a new commandment" (John 13:34). After Jesus washed the feet of the disciples he said "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another."
The evening of Maundy Thursday begins the Great Three Days of our Lord's passion, death and resurrection — the journey from the supper table to the cross, from the cross to the Easter dawn.
This is the night when Christ the lamb gave himself into the hands of those who would betray him.
It is the night when Jesus celebrated the Jewish feast of Passover with his friends and disciples, one of whom, Judas, was shortly to betray him to the religious authorities.
During the 'Last Supper' Jesus gave us the gift of the the Holy Communion, also called the Lord's Supper, Mass, or Eucharist. As we break the bread and drink the wine we proclaim his sacrifice of himself.
This is the night when Christ took a towel and washed the disciples' feet. He showed us how to honour and serve one another in love.
This is a night for watching and prayer.
We give thanks for the institution by Jesus of the Holy Communion: "Grant, Lord, that we who receive the holy sacrament of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ may be the means by which the work of his incarnation shall go forward: take, consecrate, break and distribute us, to be for others a means of your grace, and vehicles of your eternal love."
After the communion, the linen, ornaments and sanctuary furnishings are removed quietly as Psalm 22 or Psalm 28 is sung. As the church is darkened, we leave in silence, without dismissal or any other words.
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Image: Icon of the Last Supper, by Fr. Luke Dingman