Neither etymological nor liturgical scholars are completely sure why the Christian Church has long referred to Thursday of Holy Week as ‘Maundy Thursday,’ but their best guess is that ‘Maundy’ derives from the Latin mandatum, or ‘mandate.’
The Gospel of John tells us that on the night he before he died, Jesus washed his friends’ feet, and then said, “I am giving you a new mandate (a new commandment): that you love one another just as I have loved you.”
If the name for Holy Thursday derives from the Latin ‘mandate,’ you’d think it would be called ‘Mandy Thursday,’ but the etymologists guess that ‘Maundy’ is a mild corruption or mistranslation of the original Latin.
After Jesus gives his friends ‘A New Mandate’ in that Upper Room, he takes them to the Garden of Gethsemane and begins his descent into the Sheol of betrayal, denial, kangaroo court, mockery, scourging, humiliation, pain, and death.
Age upon age, as the Christian Church has reconsidered the Passion Narrative from the Upper Room on Thursday evening till death, solar eclipse, and earthquake at 3:00 on Friday afternoon, it has noticed that hour by hour, Jesus is being progressively swallowed up by the forces of darkness.
Over the centuries, to live into Jesus’ experience of increasing darkness, the Christian Church has commemorated a Service of Tenebrae.
Tenebrae is a Latin word which means ‘darkness’ or ‘shadow’. So at Kenilworth Union Church, on Maundy Thursday, March 24, at 7:30 p.m., we will commemorate a Tenebrae Service.
We will read seven Gospel Lessons charting Jesus’ journey from the Upper Room to the Cross. After each Lesson, a candle will be extinguished, to symbolize the encroaching shadows of Jesus’s demise. Light wanes. Shadows wax and triumph.
Please share with us this moving experience of Jesus’ Passion. Easter will mean more to you if you travel with Christ from the Upper Room to Calvary.
Reverend Dr. William A. Evertsberg