Today is Maundy Thursday, the day that commemorates the Last Supper and the beginning of the sacrament of Communion. The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin mandatum, which means “commandment.” At the Last Supper, Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment: to love one another as he had loved them (John 13:34). Many things happened at this meal, and afterwards: the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas’ betrayal, Jesus’ arrest and questioning before the high priest, Peter’s denial of Jesus, and Jesus being mocked and beaten. Beginning today, the intensity of events begins to build, culminating in the glory of the Resurrection on Sunday. However, do not rush too quickly to the joy of Easter. Use these next days and hours to enter fully into the experience of Christ’s passion and death. Read and pray, meditate and ponder, imagine and engage in these events yourself by taking part in a Maundy Thursday service at your church, spending time in silence on Good Friday from noon until 3:00 p.m. (the time when Christ was on the cross), being still and maintaining a sense of expectancy on Holy Saturday, until you can shout with Mary and the disciples: “He is risen!” at sunrise on Easter Sunday. Let these images from the Upper Room, Gethsemane, and the House of Caiaphas draw you into the drama of today’s events.
Readings for Maundy Thursday: Matthew 26:17-75, Mark 14:12-72, Luke 22:7-65, John 13:1-18:27 (The readings from John are extra long! They include many of Jesus’ teachings and prayers during the Last Supper. The events following the Last Supper begin with chapter 18.)
The Upper Room. Although this particular location cannot be the actual “Last Supper Room” (it was built in the 12th century), it is possible that it stands over or near the original site. There are Roman and Byzantine ruins beneath the floor of this building, and it is possible that the “little church of God” mentioned in 130 AD was on this spot, indicating that this had been an important location for Christians for some time—perhaps because the upper room was nearby.
Looking up at the Golden Gate and wall of the Old City of Jerusalem from down in the Kidron Valley, which lies between the city and the Mount of Olives.
Jesus and his disciples crossed the Kidron Valley when Jesus went each day to the temple courts and then back to Bethany (Matthew 21:17/Mark 11:11) or to the Mount of Olives (Luke 21:37) where he spent each night. They crossed it again on Thursday evening when they left the Upper Room and went to the Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the Mount of Olives (Mark 14:26, John 18:1) where Jesus prayed. It is not a deep valley, nor is it very far across. Jesus was taken back across the Kidron Valley again to the house of the high priest, Caiaphas after his betrayal and arrest.
Olive tress in the Garden of Gethsemane. They are hundreds of years old and it is possible that these gnarled ancient trees may be shoots of the same ones that witnessed Jesus’ praying and his arrest. Gethsemane is derived from the Hebrew expression Gat Shemen, which means “olive press.”
The Church Of All Nations in Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday night, 2006. Thousands of Christians packed the garden, the steps of the church, the interior—anywhere they could find room to “watch and pray” (Mark 14:38) with the Lord.
This is the stone inside the Church Of All Nations on which Jesus is supposed to have prayed on Thursday night before his arrest. The rock is entirely surrounded by a “crown of thorns” in wrought iron.
A close-up of the mosaic above the rock inside the Church Of All Nations.
The Maundy Thursday night service inside the Church Of All Nations in 2006. It was packed, with literally nowhere to move! The music was beautiful and deeply moving.
The amazing thing about Gethsemane that night was the peace and quiet that pervaded the Garden, even with all the people crammed into its tiny space. Groups of people gathered together reading Scripture, praying together, or just visiting in hushed voices. Individuals sat alone, pensive and still, along the garden walls, against the church, under the trees—wherever they could find some space. You can see the reverence in the people here on the steps of the church.
A full moon rising over the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations. Notice again the people lining the walls of the Garden. Many of them spent the entire night here, waiting for Good Friday.
Ancient steps leading to the Church of St. Peter In Gallicantu. These also lead back to the Kidron Valley, and may be the ones Jesus walked on with the mob that brought him here to Caiaphas’ house for his trial.
View of the Church of St. Peter In Gallicantu from the ancient steps. You can see another mosaic on this north face of the church, and the weathervane of the cock on the top of the sanctuary.
It is easy to get a feeling of what it would have been like to be imprisoned here overnight. Beneath the current church are two chambers hewn into the bedrock. You can see one of these chambers through the two openings in the wall. Today there are steps to take people down into this deep chamber. It is thought to be the one where Jesus was kept overnight after his trial and beating.
The cell where Jesus could have been imprisoned overnight. It is stark and hard, and an emotional place to stand and imagine the events of that Maundy Thursday long ago.
Looking up, you see a hole that resembles the opening of a cistern. Jesus would have been lowered through this hole into the underground pit by ropes, as depicted in one of the mosaics on the church. Three crosses from the Byzantine era are engraved in the sides of the opening. You can see one of them in this photo.
It is possible that originally this chamber was a mikva, a Jewish ritual bath from the Second Temple period. It could have been deepened to form a high security cell. There are other markings of crosses, and a reddish image on the south wall of a person in prayer.
In memory of the night that Jesus spent under arrest, Psalm 88 is read here.
Prayer for Today: Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that I may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (from “Praying the Divine Hours” by Phyllis Tickle)