The rituals of Maundy Thursday are, to me, the most beautiful in our Christian tradition. This is the night when Jesus had the Last Supper with his disciples, and washed their feet and commands them to love one another as he has loved them. It was after the Last Supper and washing the disciples’ feet that Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemene to pray and was arrested. This last night of Jesus’s ministry was perhaps the most powerful. The one in which he tells his disciples to share that unconditional love to the world, and to make his love known to others in such acts of love.
At my church, we share an Agape Supper with each other every Maundy Thursday evening. It is something I look forward to every year. After the supper, we have a foot washing ceremony. When I first attended the Agape Supper years ago, this was a hard part for me to accept. But the foot washing brings to life those words of Jesus on his last night of freedom. We enact that love that Jesus has for us in washing each others’ feet. We pour the clean water over another’s feet and tenderly wipe them dry. And in doing so, we remember the love that Christ has for us, and that we have for each other as disciples of Christ.
Our tradition is, after the Agape Supper and footwashing, to process from the Parish Hall to the Church where we have the Maundy Thursday Eucharist. After the Eucharist, we symbolically strip the altar bare of all adornment. The only thing left is the cross, which we shroud in black cloth. The bare altar is a visible reminder of Christ being arrested and taken from us.
These traditions are powerful physical reminders of Christ’s obedient call to be arrested, tortured, and crucified. Just as each Christian is called to obediently resist evil and hate, and to embrace love and charity, we remind ourselves of that nakedness and vulnerability that each of us must embody through stripping the altar bare.