Learn more about the readings, music, and worship-service planning helps for Holy Thursday (March 29, 2018).
Season & Preparations
On Holy (Maundy) Thursday, the Church recalls the events of Jesus’ life the day before He was crucified. This includes Jesus washing His disciples’ feet and the institution of the Lord’s Supper. The readings reflect both of these events.
There are many considerations for this unique day in the Church Year. You may want to include a brief explanation of the word Maundy in the bulletin. Timothy Maschke writes, “The word Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum, which means ‘commandment.’ It alludes to Jesus’ new commandment in John 13:34 to love one another, which He gave after He had washed His disciples’ feet” (Gathered Guests, 302).
The color for Holy Thursday is white, which is fitting as Holy Thursday is a celebration of the forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s Supper, and a remembrance of foot washing. Some congregations have multiple choices for white paraments. If so, choosing white paraments without alleluia is appropriate since we are still in the season of Lent, and the word alleluia is buried until Easter. You might run into some difficulty if you only have one set of white paraments and the paraments say alleluia on them. If that is the case, the purple of Lent is a reasonable solution.
Another liturgical piece unique to Holy Thursday is the stripping of the altar. Maschke suggests this:
As the choir quietly sings or chants Psalm 22 and the congregation silently watches, the presiding minister and assistants remove all the paraments and furnishings from the altar area and chancel. This should be carefully planned to avoid unnecessary shuffling by participants or inordinate moving of furnishings that may disrupt the meditation of the congregation and distract from the significance of the actions. The stripping of the altar is symbolic of Jesus’ humiliation at the hands of those who crucified Him. (Gathered Guests, 304)
Finally, some congregations celebrate Holy Thursday as part of the Triduum (Latin for “three days”), which also includes Good Friday and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. These three days are seen as one service, meaning there is no Benediction at the end of Holy Thursday or Good Friday, with the congregation typically leaving worship in silence.
Readings & Theme
There are two sets of readings to choose from for the Old Testament Reading, Epistle, and Gospel. The Gospel from Mark 14 records the institution of the Lord’s Supper. The Gospel from John 13 records the foot washing. The focus of the service will depend on which Gospel reading you choose.
For the Epistle, the readings from 1 Corinthians 10 or 11 both connect to the Lord’s Supper; however, the selection from chapter 10 focuses on unity in Christ, which may connect well to John 13.
The Old Testament Readings are from Exodus 12 or 24. Exodus 12 records the institution of the Passover, which connects well to Mark 14. Exodus 24 records the confirmation of the covenant with Israel, which could also connect to Mark 14. Exodus 24 probably connects better to the John 13 text, though, as it focuses on purity and God’s commands.
My suggestion would be to use Exodus 12; 1 Corinthians 11; and Mark 14 together, or to use Exodus 24; 1 Corinthians 10; and John 13 together.
Hymns & Music
The Hymn of the Day for Holy Thursday is “O Lord, We Praise Thee” (LSB 617), a Lord’s Supper hymn. The opening lines of stanza 2 capture part of the essence of Holy Thursday:
Thy holy body into death was given,
Life to win for us in heaven.
No greater love than this to Thee could bind us;
May this feast thereof remind us!
O Lord, have mercy!
Holy Thursday is complicated. Jesus is betrayed, abandoned, denied, and led off to trial. In mere hours, He’ll be dead. Yet He shows His disciples great love and service. He binds Himself to them through washing their feet and through the Lord’s Supper.
Other hymns appropriate for Holy Thursday include “Jesus, Greatest at the Table” (LSB 446), which pairs with the John 13 text and a foot-washing theme, and “When You Woke That Thursday Morning” (LSB 445), which fits with the Lord’s Supper and its institution.
Additional Resources for Worship & Study
Arch Books are a good way to teach the lessons and themes of Holy Week to children. Selections that fit Holy Thursday include The Week That Led to Easter, Jesus Washes Peter’s Feet, and The Very First Lord’s Supper. You can find numerous other resources for Holy Week music and devotions at CPH.org.
Looking for additional information on planning for Holy Thursday? Download our planning sheet to help you get started!
Text from LSB 617 is copyright © 1941 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Quotations from Gathered Guests by Timothy H. Maschke, copyright © 2003, 2009 Timothy H. Maschke. Published by Concordia Publishing House. Used by permission.