Maundy Thursday

April 1, 2010 | 5 comments
By
Carl Bloch, "The Last Supper," 1865-79.

Carl Bloch, "The Last Supper," 1865-79.

“Maundy” is an early English form of the Latin mandatum for “commandment” and recalling “A new commandment I give you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye love one another” in John 13:34

Matt 26; Mark 14:12–72; Luke 22; John 13:1–18:27; see also Mosiah 3:7 and D&C 19:15–20

  • The Last Supper (Matt 26:17–35; Mark 14:12–31; Luke 22:7–38; John 13:1–38)
  • Last Supper Discourses (Luke 22:24–30; John 13:31–17:26)
  • Jesus Goes to Gethsemane: “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” (18:1a)
  • Jesus at Gethsemane (Mark 14:32–42; Matt 26:36–47; Luke 22:39–46; John 18:1b)
  • Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus (Mark 14:43–52; Matt 26:47–56; Luke 22:47–53; John 18:2–3)
  • Jesus Before the Jewish Authorities (Mark 14:43–65; Matt 26:57–68; Luke 22:54–71; John 18–28)

Suggested Music: Bach, St. John Passion.

For further reading: Raymond Brown, The Death of the Messiah (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 110–660.

Eric D. Huntsman, “The Lamb of God: Unique Aspects of the Passion Narrative in John,” Behold the Lamb of God: An Easter Celebration (Provo: Religious Study Center, 2008), 49–70, n.b., 49–59.

Eric D. Huntsman, “Gethsemane and the Trial,” Beholding Salvation Lecture Series, Museum of Art, Brigham Young University, March 14, 2007. Also an Audio CD by Deseret Book, 2007.

Andrew C, Skinner, Gethsemane (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002).

Dana M. Pike, “Before the Jewish Authorities,” From the Last Supper to the Resurrection, 210–268.

Nicolas Poussin, "The Last Supper," 1640s.

Nicolas Poussin, "The Last Supper," 1640s.

THE LAST SUPPER

  • Preparation of “the Passover” meal (Matt 26:17–19; Mark 14:12–16; Luke 22:7–13)
  • The Last Supper with the Disciples (Matt 26:20–25; Mark 14:17–21; Luke 22:14–18)
  • Institution of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:26–30; Mark 14:22–25; Luke 22:19–20)
  • Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet (John 13:1–20)
  • Jesus Foretells His Betrayal (Luke 22:21–23; John 13:21–30)
  • The New Commandment to Love One Another (13:31–36)
  • Peter’s Denial Foretold (Matt 26:31–35; Mark 14:26–31; Luke 22:31–38; John 13:36–38)

The Synoptic Gospels seem to suggest that the Last Supper was a Passover Meal, whereas John is clear that the Passover began at sundown of the day when Christ was crucified. John’s account seems to bear the most historical verisimilitude: a criminal would certainly not be crucified during the Passover feast itself. Additionally, the Johannine imagery is strong: the day before Passover was a Preparation Day, and between 3:00-5:00 the paschal lambs were slaughtered in the Temple.[i]  Accordingly, Jesus died on the cross at 3:00 at the very moment the first Passover lamb was sacrificed. Although scholars have proposed a number of ways to resolve the apparent discrepancy, the most likely answer is that Jesus, knowing that he would be dead before Passover began, celebrated the feast early with his friends.

And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. And he said unto them, “With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:14–16; see D&C 27:5ff.)

The gospels record two important ordinances at the Last Supper: the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the Synoptics and the Washing of Feet in John. The earliest reference to the institution of the sacrament in the New Testament is actually in the letters of Paul, which were written before any of the gospels:

For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. (1 Corinthians 11:23–26)

John’s omission of the sacrament is surprising, but sacramental imagery is woven throughout the body of his gospel (e.g. the Bread of Life Discourse, Jesus as the Fountain of Living Water, the Vine, etc.). John does, however, preserve an account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. Although a priesthood ordinance, one aspect of which is alluded to in D&C 88:139–141, the significance of it in the narrative of the gospel of John is as an act of service and love:

Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. . . . So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, “Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” (John 13:3–5, 12–17)

In accordance with this example it is the practice in the Roman Catholic and some other churches for bishops or spiritual leaders to wash the feet of token members of their flock on Maundy Thursday. Similar practices were performed by some European kings, who would wash the feet of peasants and make distributions of coins to the assembled crowds. In the Church today, the ordinance itself is reserved for sacred occasions, but the example of loving and serving others is lived every day.

Tintoretto, "Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples," c. 1547-49

Tintoretto, "Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples," c. 1547-49

THE FAREWELL DISCOURSES

John also preserves several lengthy Last Supper Discourses (14:1–17:26), which focus on the love of Jesus, our relationship to him, and our need to likewise love one another.

Part 1A

  • Christ’s Departure: Jesus the Way to the Father (14:1–14)
  • Promise of the Holy Spirit or Paraclete (or “Comforter,” 14:15–26)
  • Peace and the Love of the Father (14:27–31)

Part 2

  • Jesus the True Vine (15:1–17)
  • The Hatred of the World (15:18–16:4a)

Part 1B

  • Christ’s Departure: The Work of the Spirit (16:4b–15)
  • Christ’s Departure: Sorrow Will Turn to Joy (16:16–24)
  • Peace and the Love of the Father (16:25–33)

Part 3

  • The Great Intercessory Prayer (17:1–26)

Throughout the discourses, but especially in chapters 14 and 16, Jesus focuses on the imminence of his departure, but insists that his coming sacrifice is necessary for our salvation. In the famous opening of the first discourse, he assured his disciples:

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:1–3)

The teachings in these discourses are too rich to give even a perfunctory review here. Instead we only note the love that motivated Jesus’ great atoning sacrifice and the powerful parallel of the sorrow of the passion to the pains of a woman in childbirth—terrible at the time but giving way to greater joy.

This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12–13)

Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. (John 16:20–22)

The discourses end with the famous Intercessory Prayer, also known as the Great High Priestly Prayer, of chapter 17 wherein Jesus explained the purpose of his sacrifice: to make us one with each other and one with God and Christ. This is, in reality, the essence of the Atonement—the at-one-ment—and having prayed that God will grant this end, he went forth ready to do what was necessary to bring it about.

Kidron Valley

Kidron Valley

Leaving Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples would have crossed the deep Kidron Valley separating the city from the Mount of Olives. On one side they would have seen the numerous tombs that covered the slopes of the southern side of the mount (see Holzapfel, A Lively Hope, 133–36)

Leaving Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples would have crossed the deep Kidron Valley separating the city from the Mount of Olives. On one side they would have seen the numerous tombs that covered the slopes of the southern side of the mount (see Holzapfel, A Lively Hope, 133–36)

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

The pivotal moment of this night, however, was Jesus’ great struggle in Gethsemane, “the place of the wine press.”  To get there, John 18:1 records that Jesus and his disciples needed to cross over the Kidron Valley (KJV, “the brook Cedron”), the deep valley to the east that separated the city and the temple mount from the Mount of Olives.  Anciently the valley was so deep that much of it was in shadow through much of the day. Passing through the valley under the Passover moon, they would have seen on the southern side of the Mount of Olives the numerous tombs that filled its lower slopes.  Both of these facts gave poignant meaning to the well-known passage from 23:3, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me . . .”

Gethsemane Olives

El Greco, "The Agony in the Garden," 1608

El Greco, "The Agony in the Garden," 1608

JESUS AT GETHSEMANE

  • Jesus Prays that his disciples not enter into “temptation” or “the time of trial” (peirasmon; Luke 22:40)
  • Jesus Has the Disciples, Presumably Eleven of the Twelve but Perhaps Including Others at this Point, Sit Apart and Takes Peter, James and John Further (Mark 14:32b–33a; Matt 26:36b–37a)
  • Jesus’ Soul Becomes Sorrowful; Three Disciples Asked to Pray (Mark 14:33b–34; Matt 26:37b–38)
  • Jesus Suffers and Prays that the Cup May Pass (Mark 14:33–36; Matt 26:37–39; Luke 22:41–42)
  • An Angel Appears to Strengthen Jesus [Luke 22:43]
  • Jesus Sweats Blood [Luke 22:44]
  • Finds Peter, James, and John Sleeping (three times: Mark 14:37–42; Matt 26:40–46; only once: Luke 22:45–46)

John is sparing of the details of what occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane, either out of reverence for its sacredness or because “plain and precious parts” of his account have been lost (see D&C 93:18).  The Synoptics, however, recount that Jesus took his three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John part way into the garden and then left them to watch and pray while he went in further.  There he “began to be sore amazed and very sorrowful” (Mark 14:22 and parallels).  Of this experience, Elder Neal A. Maxwell has tenderly written:

Later, in Gethsemane, the suffering Jesus began to be ‘sore amazed’ (Mark 14:33), or, in the Greek, ‘awestruck’ and ‘astonished.’ Imagine, Jehovah, the Creator of this and other worlds, “astonished!” Jesus knew cognitively what He must do, but not experientially. He had never personally known the exquisite and exacting process of an atonement before. Thus, when the agony came in its fulness, it was so much, much worse than even He with his unique intellect had ever imagined! No wonder an angel appeared to strengthen him!

The cumulative weight of all mortal sins—past, present, and future—pressed upon that perfect, sinless, and sensitive Soul! All our infirmities and sicknesses were somehow, too, a part of the awful arithmetic of the Atonement. The anguished Jesus not only pled with the Father that the hour and cup might pass from Him, but with this relevant citation. ‘And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me.’ (Mark 14:35–36.)” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Willing to Submit,” Ensign, May 1985, 70ff.)

Mark, Matthew, and Luke agree on what happened next.  Falling upon the ground, he pled with his Father that thus cup could pass, but then in harmony with his nature since the beginning, he submitted to his Father’s will.

When in the wondrous realms above our Savior had been called upon to save our world of sin by love, He said, “Thy will, O Lord, be done.”

The King of Kings left worlds of light, became the meek and lowly One; in brightest day or darkest night, He said, “Thy will, O Lord, be done.” (hymn 188)

Of the Synoptics, Luke preserves additional, critical details, including the important appearance of an angel to comfort or assist the Lord and the fact that his agony resulted in his sweating blood (Luke 22:43–44).  Although some scholars have called into question the text of these two verses, latter-day revelation confirms the “sweating of blood” and gives us the greatest insight into the events of Gethsemane, where Jesus took upon us the weight of our sins and sorrows and began the process of the Atonement.

“And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.” (Mosiah 3:7)

“For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” (D&C 19:16-19)

Olive Press, BYU Jerusalem Center, Courtesy of Matthew Grey

Olive Press, BYU Jerusalem Center, Courtesy of Matthew Grey

BETRAYAL AND ARREST OF JESUS

  • Judas Leads Arresting Party to Jesus (Mark 14:43; Matt 26:47; Luke 22:47a; John 18:2–3)
  • Judas Identifies Jesus with a Kiss (Mark 14:44–46; Matt 26:48–50; Luke 22:47b–48)
  • Jesus’ “I Am” Proclamation to the Arresting Party (John 18:4–8a)
  • Jesus Intervenes for His Disciples (John 18:8b–9)
  • Servant of the High Priest Wounded (Mark 14:47; Matt 26:51; Luke 22:49–50; John 18:10)
  • Jesus Rebukes the Defending Disciple (Matt 26:52–54; Luke 22:51a; John 18:11)
  • Jesus Heals the High Priest’s Servant (Luke 22:51b)
  • Jesus Rebukes the Arresting Party (Mark 14:48–50; Matt 26:55–56a; Luke 22:52–53)
  • Disciples Abandon Jesus (Mark 14:50; Matt 26:56b)
  • Young Man in the Linen Cloth (Mark 14:51–52)

Following the agony in the Garden, our Lord suffered another blow, his betrayal by his friend Judas and the subsequent indignities of his arrest and trial. As part of the “atoning journey” begun when Jesus took upon himself our sins, pains, and sorrows, he “descended below all things” and experienced the terrible realities of betrayal, false judgment, arrest, and rejection. No wife betrayed by a husband, no child abused by a parent, no friend rejected by another will fail to resonate with Jesus’ being betrayed by the kiss of a friend, abandoned by the disciples, and denied, if only briefly, by Peter. No one ever falsely judged can fail to relate as to how Jesus, innocent and pure, was falsely accused and condemned.

JESUS BEFORE THE JEWISH AUTHORITIES

  • Jesus before the former High Priest Annas (John 18:12–14; 19–24)
  • Jesus Before the High Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:53–64; Matt 26:57–68; Luke 22:54a [22:66–71 after the denial and the mocking]; John 18:24, 28)
  • Jesus Mocked by the Jewish Guards (Mark 14:65; Matt 26:67–68; Luke 22:63–65)
  • Peter’s Denial (Mark 14:66–72; Matt 26:69–75; Luke 22:54b–62; John 18:17–27)
  • Morning Hearing Before the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:1; Matt 27:1; Luke 22:63–71)

Matthew, Mark, and John have Jesus examined and perhaps tried by various Jewish authorities during the course of the night after Jesus’ arrest. Scholarship is divided on whether the Jewish authorities had the right to execute a person condemned for blasphemy, one of the charges discussed in Matthew and Mark. Luke portrays a formal hearing before the Sanhedrin the next morning; this was mostly likely an investigative hearing to gather information for the charges to be laid before Pilate.

Reflection

Although it is common for Latter-day Saints to see the experiences of Gethsemane as the scene of the Atonement, Jewish sacrificial practice, together with the events that followed that terrible night and into the next day, suggest that it was, in fact, only the beginning of a process that we can term the Lord’s “atoning journey.”  For instance, the burnt offering was first presented at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, where the worshiper placed his hands upon it, symbolically claiming it and, in the case of the sin offering, symbolically transferring his guilt to the sacrificial victim (Leviticus 1:3-5; 4:2-4).  In later periods, the victim was then led by the priest to the altar, where it was slain and its blood poured out on the north side of the altar (Leviticus 1:11).  By this model, Gethsemane was the place where the weight of our sins were laid upon Jesus, who, following his betrayal and arrest, was led through the false hearings, trials, and abuse that were to follow to the place of his sacrifice, the lonely summit of Calvary.

As Elder Holland has movingly written:

I speak of the loneliest journey ever made and the unending blessings it brought to all in the human family. I speak of the Savior’s solitary task of shouldering alone the burden of our salvation. Rightly He would say: ‘I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me. . . . I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold [me].’ . . . that the supreme sacrifice of His Son might be as complete as it was voluntary and solitary, the Father briefly withdrew from Jesus the comfort of His Spirit, the support of His personal presence. It was required, indeed it was central to the significance of the Atonement, that this perfect Son who had never spoken ill nor done wrong nor touched an unclean thing had to know how the rest of humankind—us, all of us—would feel when we did commit such sins. For His Atonement to be infinite and eternal, He had to feel what it was like to die not only physically but spiritually, to sense what it was like to have the divine Spirit withdraw, leaving one feeling totally, abjectly, hopelessly alone. (Jeffrey L. Holland, “None Were with Him,” Ensign, May 2009, 86)

Alma 7:11-13 makes clear that it was not just the weight of our sins but also of our infirmities, sorrows, and pains that pressed down upon Jesus in Gethsemane.  What Elder Maxwell called “the awful arithmetic of the atonement” literally pressed blood out of our Lord.  Well was that site called “the place of the olive press.”  But just as the mash of crushed olives was pressed until it ran redish-brown, only to subsequently clarify to clear amber, so the bloody product of our Lord’s suffering became the oil of the atonement which can both heal sickness as well as consecrate to priestly and kingly rank.

But it was not enough for Jesus to suffer in the Garden.  He must also experience betrayal, false judgment, and abuse so that he could “descend below all things.”  All of this suffering was somehow salvific, yet it was not enough to suffer, he must also die to pay the final price and rise again to break the bands of death.  And so the Atoning Journey, beginning at Gethsemane, continued through the cross, only to culminate and end at the empty tomb.

Once again, Elder Holland has written:

. . . Brothers and sisters, one of the great consolations of this Easter season is that because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so. His solitary journey brought great company for our little version of that path—the merciful care of our Father in Heaven, the unfailing companionship of this Beloved Son, the consummate gift of the Holy Ghost, angels in heaven, family members on both sides of the veil, prophets and apostles, teachers, leaders, friends. All of these and more have been given as companions for our mortal journey because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the Restoration of His gospel.

As we approach this holy week—Passover Thursday with its Paschal Lamb, atoning Friday with its cross, Resurrection Sunday with its empty tomb—may we declare ourselves to be more fully disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, not in word only and not only in the flush of comfortable times but in deed and in courage and in faith, including when the path is lonely and when our cross is difficult to bear. This Easter week and always, may we stand by Jesus Christ “at all times and in all things, and in all places that [we] may be in, even until death,” for surely that is how He stood by us when it was unto death and when He had to stand entirely and utterly alone. (Holland, 88).

5 Responses to Maundy Thursday

  1. Crossed the Tiber on April 1, 2010 at 9:00 am

    Eric,
    For the most part, the penitential/sorrowful, and Hallel Psalms associated with Holy Week and Passover, respectively, are absent from your discussions thus far. Admittedly, unlike Jews and many Christians, Latter-day Saints do not pray the Psalms (oddly amusing attempts at Seders notwithstanding) or really most anything that’s not spontaneous for that matter. However, perhaps in a context of at least holy reading (lectio divina), they can be added to personal devotions for the week.

  2. Michael on April 1, 2010 at 9:54 am

    Thank you Eric for this wonderful series.

  3. Tracy M on April 1, 2010 at 10:09 am

    I’ve really appreciated these posts. Thank you.

  4. Hunter on April 1, 2010 at 10:10 am

    And I loved how you dealt with the Gethsemane vs. Calvary debate. Thanks for this.

  5. Carolee on April 1, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    Thanks for these posts and also for the link to your complete document with them. I invited other LDS expats here in Lagos over for family home evening on this past Monday and we set up the computer screen and sat with our scriptures and went through the whole week. It’s helped me concentrate my private devotions this week to prepare for Easter worship (which I’ll find in some other church this Sunday in Senegal, where we’re travelling for the weekend).

WELCOME

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