I don’t know about all of you, but whenever I think of today, and all that happened on that first Holy Thursday almost 2,000 years ago, I approach the day with a mix of emotions. Hope, knowing that my soul’s redemption would occur less than 24 hours later. Fascination, because even after almost 30 years on this planet, I still often struggle to fully understand the mystery of the Last Supper. And sadness. Sadness, because Jesus’ closest friends and followers abandoned Him. Judas betrayed him for a tiny bag of coins. Peter denied Him three times. And all of them ran off and hid. Even though I freely admit I would’ve unfortunately done the same thing.
Holy Thursday, for those who don’t know, most commonly is set aside to commemorate the Last Supper Jesus shared with the Apostles.
But the three most important things we commemorate today are the institution of Holy Communion (the bread and wine symbolizing the body and blood of Jesus), the washing of the disciples’ feet, and the betrayal of Jesus by Judas.
We have the luxury of better being able to study and learn what Jesus meant by all of the things He did on that first Holy Thursday. But I bet it was all a blur and confusing to His disciples back then. They probably were riding high honestly! They had just entered Jerusalem with Jesus four days ago, to the shouts of hundreds of thousands (or millions) of people proclaiming Him the Messiah and King of the Jews! If I had tagged along with Jesus, I would’ve probably just been awestruck by the reaction He received from the crowd!
The Last Supper: A Symbol of Salvation
Now fast forward four days. It’s quiet, dark, cool, foggy, and the only light they can see by are torches in the Upper Room. Quite the contrast! They eat the Passover Meal. Here is where Jesus shows the central and most beautiful aspect of Holy Thursday: He prepares the hearts and minds of the disciples (and billions of us far into the future) to receive Him by understanding His coming sacrifice using the symbols of bread and wine.
And He took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way after the supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new Covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:19-20)
I imagine seeing that for the first time was strange. I bet not one of the disciples understood what had just happened until much later. Keep in mind that many Jews who had met or seen or traveled with Jesus probably expected Him to be a military leader. They expected Him to lead a rebellion to destroy the Romans. To them, if a person claims to be the Messiah and then dies, that is God’s sign to them that person wasn’t the Messiah. So nobody was expecting Him to die. Let alone willingly.
But the Communion of bread and wine serves as an outward symbol of what we must do in our hearts to be saved by Jesus: If we believe in His death on the Cross as our salvation from our sins, which required Him to be broken for us and to shed His blood, we are reconciled to God.
Washing of the Feet
But after the Communion, Jesus does something nobody expects: He pours water into a basin, wraps a towel around His waist, gets on His knees, and begins washing His disciples’ feet.
In order to understand how radical and unheard of that was, you have to understand a bit of the culture back in Jesus’ day. A person’s feet were the absolute dirtiest part of their body, and many walked barefoot. If someone was hosting a guest in their house, the host would have their slave or servant wash the guest’s feet first thing before they ate with them. It was a dirty job. But Jesus turned a slave’s task into the ultimate act of servitude. He turned it on its head.
If you accept that Jesus is who He says He is, God in human form, that may immediately make you be like, “Wait what? God doesn’t do THAT. Right? He’s God. That’s so far beneath Him! They should wash His feet instead!” I may still have a lot of studying to do when it comes to reading and understanding Scripture. But the one thing I’ve already learned? God often does not do what we would expect Him to do. This was certainly one of those times 😉
When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place. “Do you not understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord.’ And rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master. Nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)
This message still seems to be radical even today almost 2,000 years later! It goes entirely against the grain of what society seems to value. For whatever reason, society has always seemed to be built on status. In Jesus’ time a person’s status may have been measured by how big their houses were, how many servants they had, how big their flocks of sheep and cattle were, and how their neighbors saw them.
In our time, status is still measured in similar ways. Instead of servants we’ve got that new car or latest iPhone. Instead of flocks of animals, we’ve got closets full of expensive designer fashion and clothes. And instead of our neighbors judging us in the middle of some dusty Judean town square, they judge us over cyberspace and social media.
But by His humble and lowly act of servitude, Jesus showed what He truly values: Humility and looking to serve others before ourselves, and to do it in the spirit with which He served others.
The Kiss of Judas
But while we commemorate Communion and the washing of the disciples’ feet, we also remember the saddest part of Holy Thursday: The betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot. I could not imagine being there for that, let alone being in Judas’ spot and betraying Jesus. Judas had traveled with Jesus for three years. He spent three whole years being with God every single day. He saw all the miracles, even the ones we don’t know about that weren’t recorded in the Bible. And he had been loved by God far more deeply than any human being can ever imagine! But he sold Him out for a small bag of silver coins. I still shake my head at it. It makes my heart sink. It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.
But out of the greatest and saddest betrayal in history, came the greatest sacrifice the world has ever known. After He was arrested and questioned by the Sanhedrin, Jesus was likely held overnight in a prison cell. The Lamb was held for slaughter. The next day, He would pay the price for our souls…