A Creative Solution for Maundy Thursday 2021

Maundy Thursday is my favorite night of the church year.  The Episcopal congregation in which I grew up started the evening with a Seder Dinner, hosted by a couple who were Jewish until their mid-thirties and dearly loved to share this part of their heritage with our church.  Now I know much more about cultural appropriation and understand that this could be problematic.  But as a child growing up with this ritual, it helped me to feel more connected to the Last Supper of Jesus and to the Bible.  

Many Episcopal liturgies on this night include a foot washing of some sort.  When my children were small, it was profoundly touching to see their excitement at getting to be a part of this.  I have a very clear memory of my husband helping our 3-year old and 6-year old reverently wash the feet of a well respected retired professor one year.  

And the final part of our Maundy Thursday service is the “stripping of the altar.” While Psalm 22 is chanted or said, we reverently take all the decorations off the altar and from around the church, leaving an empty, bare room.  We leave in silence and desolation, remembering Jesus getting arrested and taken away from his friends. 

Not This Year

We are still in the pandemic this year.  We can not eat together.  We can not get close enough to wash one another’s feet.  And, after a year of not being inhabited, it just didn’t seem right to do a recording of the stripping of the altar.  I have some sense that it would just be going through the motions.  The removal of worshipers for this whole year is a much more profound symbolism than simply removing some decorations.

So with all that in mind, and the help of some wise others, I created an At Home Maundy Thursday Option for this year.  It includes a Stripping Away, a Handwashing Ritual, an Agape Meal Outline, and a Holy Conversation.  Let’s begin with a poem, created last year, which continues to set the scene for Maundy Thursday 2021

A Poem for Maundy Thursday 

by The Rev. Erika Takacs, Church of the Atonement, Chicago IL 2020

It seems a strange thing to us

that kindness now looks like a closed and locked door.

That a true welcome is to say, please, do not come in!

and the face of hospitality lies half-hidden behind a mask.

It is inconceivable to us that on this night, of all nights,

when we long to say

Take, eat! and

Drink, you, all of this

we find only old, empty wineskins and barren tables long dusty.

What rough wind has come howling into our rooms

and blown away all that was filling and holy and good?

What trick has twisted this night

into something so turvy and topsy?


There was another night, long ago, that seemed as strange.

On this night, the disciples, too, were shut inside,

anxious and alone,

when suddenly, the head of the table,

the head of everything,

was on his knees on the floor,

dragging a chipped bowl from place to place,

wiping dust from dirty toes,

shaking his head sincerely

when one tried to switch places,

or another tried to hide from his touch.


But here is the strangest thing.

When he was finished, he looked up to their faces –

   frowning or frightened or wide-eyed and wondering –

and told them that this, just this, was love.

This mean and mysterious act was love, was welcome,

   the true measure of Christ’s kindness,

   patted down and running over,

and this the face of hospitality, shining and glorious at their feet.


So like him, is it not,

that just when we thought we had it figured out,

when we had a well-worn map that led the way to love like this,

this year, he would show us a new road.

So like him to teach us a new face of love

   on this night,

which is perhaps not so strange after all.                  

Stripping Away

Our congregation will be offering a short recording of Psalm 22 chanting while we change the coverings of the crosses from purple (the color of Lent) to black (the color of Good Friday).  This year we invite people to take this ritual into their homes, as well.

This night, you are invited to participate in a ritual that reminds us of the stripping of the altar and preparing for Good Friday. If you have crosses in your house, consider covering them with cloth this night. Or cover your mirrors (because God resides in you, too). 

Leave these cloths in place until Easter Morning. First thing Easter Morning, remove them with joy as you proclaim, “He is Risen!” 

But for tonight, cover them and walk with Jesus to his death.

Handwashing Ritual

In past Maundy Thursdays, we have gathered and been invited to wash one another’s feet as an act of love and service to others. This year, we will wash our own hands at home as a mirror of this communal act. 

Over this past year, handwashing has become for us a “small s” sacramental act of loving service to others. We have washed our hands thousands of times since last Maundy Thursday, in order to protect others from germs we may not know we have, and to do what we can to keep ourselves healthy. We have washed as an act of love.

I invite you, therefore, to take a moment on this Maundy Thursday 2021, to engage in ritual handwashing as an outward and visible sign of the inward grace of love, service, and neighborliness you have been living out in strange new ways this past year. Go to your normal handwashing sink and wash as you say this prayer:


Pure and holy God, cleanse me through and through.

Wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

May this act of handwashing, and every act of handwashing,

remind me of my baptism — that I am your beloved child.

May this act of handwashing, and every act of handwashing,

remind me that you created a way out of no way

for your people to escape slavery through the Red Sea.

May this act of handwashing, and every act of handwashing,

remind me of your command to love neighbor,

and that in this washing I serve my neighbor.

Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.

 Helen Svoboda-Barber 2021

Agape Meal

Early Christians gathered for Agape Meals, “Love Feasts,” where food and wine and conversation were shared as acts of devotion. These were not Eucharists  with the bread and wine of communion, but were times of building up the bonds of fellowship with daily bread and wine. This year, we invite you to call or video chat with a friend or loved one as you eat a simple meal with an attitude of love.

Three Meal Ideas 

  • Excellent bread, cheese, fruit, nuts, olives and other finger food
  • A Simple Soup and Salad
  • Your Favorite Comfort Foods

Set Your Table

  1. Light a candle at your table. Use the good china and cloth napkins.
  2. Include wine or juice in a special glass if you are able. 
  3. Perhaps gather photos of friends and family to be with you at your table. 

Blessings Over the Meal

These prayers have their roots in ancient Jewish prayers, adapted from Rev. Jill LaRoche Wikel, Church of the Ascension, Parkesburg PA

It is appropriate to touch the items as you say each of these prayers.

Over the Wine or Juice

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe. You create the fruit of the vine; and you refresh us with the cup of salvation in the Blood of your Son Jesus Christ. May the time come quickly when we can share that cup again, even as you are with us now in our very thirst for you. Glory to you for ever and ever. Amen. 

Over the Bread

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe. You bring forth bread from the earth; and you have fed us on our way with the bread of life in the Body of your Son Jesus Christ. Let us be fed again soon with that bread of life. And as grain scattered upon the earth is gathered into one loaf, so gather your Church in every place into the kingdom of your Son. To you be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

Over the Other Foods

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe. You have blessed the earth to bring forth food to satisfy our hunger. Let this food strengthen us in the fast that is before us, that following our Savior in the way of the cross, we may come to the joy of his resurrection. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, now and forever. Amen.

Holy Conversations

You may have these conversations with  God, with those on phone/video, or those in your house this night.

  1.  Tonight we remember the last meal Jesus had with his friends.

 Who do you wish were around your table tonight?

What would you like to say to them?

  1. Jesus’s love is paradoxical: we give up our lives to save them; the leader serves.

  What is one way you have experienced paradoxical love in your own life?

  1. Share a story about a time when you felt close to God this year.

And You?

How will your Maundy Thursday be different in 2021 because of this year-long Pandemic?  What feels right this year?  How can we honor the essence of the night and the reality of the moment?

I grant permission for you to use the parts of this I created, with attribution, in your own homes or congregations.  Please contact the other authors for permission to use their writings.

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