Maundy Thursday

Call to Worship

  • Our help is in the name of the Lord
    who made heaven and earth.
  • Jesus said:
    I give you a new commandment,
    that you love one another.
    Just as he loved us,
    we also should love one another.
  • On this day
    Christ the Lamb of God
    gave himself into the hands of those who would slay him.

    On this day
    Christ gathered with his disciples in the upper room.
    On this day
    Christ took a towel and washed the disciples' feet,
    giving us an example
    that we should do to others as he has done to us.
  • Christ our God gave us the holy feast,
    that we who eat the bread
    and drink the cup
    may proclaim his holy sacrifice
    and be partakers of his resurrection,
    and at the last day may reign with him in heaven.

    --from the Book of Common Worship (Westminster John Knox, 1993)

Prayer of the Day

  • Lord Jesus Christ,
    in this sacred and solemn week
    when we see again the depth and mystery of your redeeming love,
    help us
    to follow where you go,
    to stop where you stumble,
    to listen when you cry,
    to hurt as you suffer,
    to bow our heads in sorrow when you die,
    so that when raised to life again
    we may share your endless joy.

    --from Common Order, Panel on Worship, Church of Scotland, 1994. Used by permission.


Tenebrae, or "Service of Shadows," is one of the oldest traditions in the Christian church for the commemoration of the passion and death of Christ. Through scripture readings and hymns the story of Christ's betrayal, trial, and crucifixion is told. As the Passion story unfolds, candles are extinguished and the darkness deepens, until with the death of Christ, only one light is left burning. This light is removed from the sanctuary, symbolizing Christ's three days in the tomb.

Stripping the Sanctuary

Oftentimes the service for Maundy Thursday concludes with the stripping of the sanctuary, which is done in absolute silence and in an unhurried, orderly fashion. The practice dates from the seventh century and originally served the practical purpose of cleaning the sanctuary in preparation for Easter, when all things are made new. In time, however, the practice became ceremonial in its own right. In silence and in shadows, communion vessels, table cloths, pulpit and lectern hangings, banners, candles, and all other decorative and liturgical objects are sensitively removed, thus dramatizing the desolation, abandonment and darkness of the passion and death of our Lord. The sanctuary remains bare until the beginnings of the Easter celebration. Ordinarily there is neither a blessing nor a postlude at the conclusion of the service. The church remains in semi-darkness, and all exit in silence. Symbolically, Christ, stripped of his power and glory, is now in the hands of his captors.

Written by John Paarlberg, pastor of First Church in Albany, New York