Making an Authentic Maundy Thursday Today

Jim Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Thursday, April 9, 2020
Making an Authentic Maundy Thursday Today

Making an Authentic Maundy Thursday Today


Jack Dorsey, the CEO and co-founder of Twitter and Square, has announced plans to donate $1 billion to fight the coronavirus outbreak. This is the largest pledged gift by a private individual yet during the pandemic.

He will contribute roughly 30 percent of his estimated net worth. He notes that all of his gift donations will be tracked through a public Google Sheet. 

Dorsey explains the timing of his commitment: “The needs are increasingly urgent, and I want to see the impact in my lifetime. I hope this inspires others to do something similar. Life is too short, so let’s do everything we can today to help people now.”

Trumpet concerts from 200 feet in the air

Firefighter Elielson Silva plays his trumpet on the top of a ladder for residents in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

There is other good news in the news today: a disc jockey in Philadelphia made thirty-two food deliveries in seven days to healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic, supporting small businesses in the process. A firefighter in Rio de Janeiro is using a retractable fire truck ladder to play trumpet concerts from two hundred feet in the air for sheltering residents. 

Geico has announced a 15 percent auto insurance credit worth billions of dollars because its customers are driving less. A math teacher in Maryland ran 102 miles in 21 hours to raise support for a local food bank.

But there’s bad news in the news, of course. As of this morning, there are nearly 1.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide, with more than 88,000 deaths. 

Nearly twice as many people in New York City have died of COVID-19 as perished on 9/11. Due to stay-at-home orders, pornography use is up, as is domestic violence and alcohol use and abuse. And in a reminder that we were broken people before the pandemic struck, the CDC reports that suicides in the US have increased 35 percent since 1999.

Washing the feet of prisoners

“Maundy” Thursday comes from the Latin word for mandated. What is mandated about this day? And how does this mandate relate to the pandemic?

During his last supper with his disciples, Jesus washed their feet (John 13:1-11). Then he stated: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (vv. 14-15).

Many Christians over the centuries have imitated our Lord’s physical act, especially on this day. For instance, Pope Francis traveled to the prison of Velletri south of Rome last year for Maundy Thursday, where he washed the feet of twelve inmates. “Be brothers in service: not in ambition, but in service,” he told them.

However, Jesus’ mandate extends beyond his physical act to its spiritual significance. Whenever we serve a person selflessly and sacrificially, we can be said to have “washed their feet.” When we humble ourselves to honor our Lord and our neighbor, we imitate Jesus’ spirit of humility. When we meet physical needs to meet spiritual needs, we serve as our Lord serves us.

Hope when we’re afraid of the dark

Jack Dorsey is right: “Life is too short, so let’s do everything we can today to help people now.” This principle applies especially to Christians, for we are called to follow the example of the One who gave his life to help all of humanity.

When Jesus launched his public ministry, he fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16, citing Isaiah 42:7).

Like them, we are dwelling in the “shadow of death” today. But the darker the room, the more powerful the light.

James Koester of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Boston notes: “It’s not that God can’t, or doesn’t, or won’t work during the brightness of the day, but we need God most in those moments of our life that are full of darkness and fear.

“If you have ever been or are even now afraid of the dark—afraid of the darkness of your own life, afraid of the darkness of the life of another, afraid of the darkness of the world—take courage for as terrifying as it can be, Holy Week promises us that God is at work even there, even then, even now.”

Advice from a 102-year-old

Now our Lord invites us to share his light with those who are in the dark, to wash their feet as Jesus has washed ours. And to trust him to use our present faithfulness for future and eternal significance we cannot imagine today.

Lucille Ellson was born on December 30, 1917, just before the Spanish flu pandemic began. Her uncle and father contracted the flu, though neither died. She was a teenager during the Great Depression and a schoolteacher and young wife during World War II.

Now 102 years old, Lucille is reflecting on the coronavirus pandemic. She advises us to “not get stressed about planning far ahead. You can’t do it. A long time ago, I started making a list every morning of what I had to do. It was the only thing I could control.”

You cannot control tomorrow, but you can control your service today. Jesus washed your feet; whose feet will you wash?

How will you make this a true Maundy Thursday?

Publication date: April 9, 2020

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images

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