This is one of those Holy Days on which the lectionary readings are the same for all three years. But in each year of the cycle they suggest somewhat different emphasis. Here you will find all the ideas for all the years that fit with Year C. First are general ideas for observing Maundy Thursday worship themes. Then you will find ideas for each text.
+ Go to my book Sharing the Easter Faith with Children to find detailed plans for three child friendly Maundy Thursday services.
A detailed plan for reading the story and celebrating Communion around tables
A child-friendly Tenebrae script
A script for a children’s Tenebrae that includes candles and a prop for each story
+ For children, Maundy Thursday is all about celebrating Holy Communion on the night Jesus invented it. Just as the Nativity stories have special power on Christmas Eve, the Eucharist has added power on Maundy Thursday. Just to be there participating in the sacrament on this night says that I am one of God’s people. Because I eat at this table, I belong.
Unfortunately, many congregations do not encourage children to attend this service. The fact that it is often on a school night makes it easy to decide that children will not be able to come and therefore to neither plan for their presence nor encourage them and their families to come. After a few years of such expectations it takes more than one or two “children are welcome” notes to reverse the trend. A clear invitation to families to join all God’s people to hear the stories of the most important days of the year and to celebrate the sacrament that was introduced on that night is needed. It also helps to include children in some way in leadership. Consider
+ asking a church school class to prepare the elements for communion and bring them to the Table,
+ including children among the readers during the Tenebrae,
+ asking children’s choirs to sing, and
+ calling on families with children to serve as greeters and ushers.
+ Stories are important on this night. The key story is the bread and cup of the Last supper. But the story of washing the disciples’ feet, the failure of the church in Corinth to gather as a loving community to celebrate communion, and the Passover story are also part of the night. And, though the Passion story belongs to Good Friday, all the stories told on Maundy Thursday look to the Good Friday stories. In any given service only one or maybe two of the supporting stories can be involved.
+ Songs for the evening: “Let Us Break Bread Together” and “For the Bread Which You Have Broken” (especially verse 1, 2, and 4) are probably the simplest communion hymn for this night for children. The Ghanian hymn “Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us With Your Love” with the phrase “kneels at the feet of his friends…” while it may not be as familiar to adults as it is to children, is a good choice for congregational singing or for a children’s choir to sing.
+ Tenebrae was originally celebrated on Good Friday, but many congregations, especially those who do not worship together on Good Friday, include it in Maundy Thursday worship following communion. It is a candle lighting service in reverse. Seven or eight candles are lighted in the beginning with each one snuffed out as a part of the Passion is read. A deep toned hand bell may be sounded as each candle is snuffed. Then after a moment of darkness, a single candle is relit to remind us of the coming resurrection and the congregation departs in silence. Children deeply appreciate this ritual IF…
-It is explained to them in advance
-The readings are not too long and focus on storytelling. (This is not the place for John’s long soliloquies.) See scripts in Sharing the Easter Faith with Children.
-Readers of all ages, including at least one older child, are involved. (A child can often read the story of Jesus’ burial.)
+ Some congregations end this rite with a minute of silence followed by a single crash of a gong. Even when you know it is coming, the gong makes you jump. Be sure the children know it is coming. A note among the printed announcements is not enough warning! Actually, briefly explaining the Tenebrae and noting the crashing gong at the end of it during worship leading up to Maundy Thursday is a great way to draw families to this service.
If you have been highlighting phrases from the Lord’s Prayer during Lent this year, tonight’s petition is “Give us this day our daily bread.” At some point before the sacrament, lift up the loaf for all to see. Briefly note that when Jesus offered bread, he was offering bread but also lots more. He was offering the love and forgiveness our souls need as much as our bodies need bread. Insist that when he asks us to remember him when we eat this bread, he is asking us to remember all the ways he feeds us and forgives us. Add details in a prayer or reading in which the congregation responds to each line, “give us this day our daily bread.”
God, you created our bodies and know that we need food to keep them going.
You fed Moses and the slaves with manna and quail as they traveled through the wilderness from slavery in Egypt to new life in the Promised Land.
You used the bread and fish offered by one boy to feed a huge crowd.
We remember tonight all of those who are hungry. Help them find food and help us find ways to make food available for everyone all the time.
God, food will keep our bodies going, but our souls require a different bread. Our souls need your love and forgiveness.
We remember this night all the people Jesus loved –
the son who ran away from home and came back,
Zaccheus and Matthew (the tax-collectors everyone hated),
the 12 disciples with whom he worked and traveled and laughed even when they did not get what he was showing and telling them, all the people he touched and healed,
Nicodemus who came to him secretly to ask his big questions,
even the thief who was crucified beside him.
We remember that all of them turned on you when things got hard and that you forgave them. As You loved them and forgave them, love us and forgive us. We need your love and forgiveness as much as we need bread to eat.
So we come to this Table tonight praying,
And all of God’s people say…. (Amen)
Exodus 12:14, 11-14
Older children, especially those who have Jewish friends, are fascinated by the connection between Passover and the Last Supper. But, before they can understand it, they have to hear the story of the Passover, know some of the details of the Seder, and know the details of Holy Communion. Maundy Thursday worship is not the place to start into all three from scratch. What you can do?
+ Invite the children forward for the reading of the text. Then point out that God saved the Jews from slavery in Egypt. Jesus and his disciples were remembering this story on the night of the last supper. The very next day, Jesus died on the cross to save us from sin and death. Note the similarity. God saves us over and over again.
+ Before Holy Week, invite a Jewish family to walk families of your congregation through a Seder. They could just tell about it or present pictures of themselves celebrating it (maybe in a Powerpoint?) Or, with their direction you could prepare a Seder meal to eat together with them leading the whole group through it. Then, on Maundy Thursday seat worshipers around tables in the fellowship hall with communion elements on each table. Read the Passover story and the story of the Last Supper before celebrating communion. (David Lose on Sermon Brainwave warns us to avoid supercessionism – suggesting that our celebration is better than theirs or has topped or surpassed theirs - in worship services like this.)
+ Exploring the Passover connection tends to lead adults to speak of Jesus as the Lamb of God. Remember if you do that children think literally and are easily confused by metaphorical language. For them the easiest way to understand Lamb of God is as a nickname for Jesus. Actually, I’d save this term for other worship settings.
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19
There are so many vivid stories vying for their attention in worship this night that most children will miss this psalm entirely. That may be just fine. Unpacking it enough for them to understand requires more than it is probably worth on Maundy Thursday. So include it in the liturgy for the adults.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
+ This is probably read on Maundy Thursday because Paul is answering the question “why do we celebrate Communion?” It is a question that children often ask. So it is worth highlighting either as it is read from the Bible or with an aside as it is read in the Eucharist liturgy. The answer is simply that we celebrate communion because Jesus asked us to and because it is a way we can remember Jesus.
+ When read in its context in the 1 Corinthians (see vss. 17-22), this story is the opposite of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. The wealthier members of the church at Corinth came early with all their food to the church suppers. They did not wait to eat until the poorer members got off their jobs and could come. So, there was often nothing left for the poorer members when they arrived. Paul calls them on their lack of loving care of people in need.
The Gospel: John 13:1-17.31b-35
John’s account offers no bread or wine, but does offer foot washing and a new commandment about love. These are especially relevant for those who have been exploring sacrificial love throughout Lent.
+ Jesus Washes the Disciple’s Feet. You can almost see all the disciples looking at their feet, knowing that someone needs to do the washing, thinking that if they don’t make eye contact with anyone maybe it won’t be them. Then Jesus does it. He washes the feet of the people who will desert him. He even washes the feet of Judas who will turn him in and tell his enemies where to find him. I think a case could be made that Jesus did this as either practice for what was coming on Friday, as a demonstration of what it means to love, or maybe both. Like everyone else in the room, he knew everyone’s feet needed to be washed. Maybe he thought to himself, “OK, if I can wash their feet - even wash Judas’ feet - tonight, maybe I can believe that I can do what is coming tomorrow.” This makes sense to most children. When washing feet is compared to yucky jobs that must be done every day – taking out the garbage, cleaning the cat’s litter, turning the compost pile, cleaning the bathrooms, dealing with a diaper pail – it calls them to join Jesus in practicing love. The first challenge is to do these jobs for people we love and who love us back. As we do we imagine doing them for someone who mistreats us and we remember that Jesus washed Judas’ feet.
+ While surfing for pictures of foot washing, I came across photos of weddings at which the groom washes the bride’s feet during the ceremony. I’m guessing (hoping!) the groom gets his feet washed too. This is a new idea to me and I’m not espousing it. But it is an interesting wedding ritual that points out the very non-romantic ways husbands and wives (and all family members!) are to love each other.
+ Hand washing is for us what foot washing was for people in Jesus’ day. Walking around barefoot or in sandals, they worried about dirty feet. We worry about germs on our hands. So consider reading about washing feet, but inviting people to have their hands washed. This is actually a year-round tradition in the Mayan culture. Hosts pour water over the hands of honored guests and dry them off with a towel before serving a meal.
Greeters at the door of the sanctuary could gently wash the hands of each entering worshiper before handing him or her a printed order of worship. One or two families or an older children’s church school class could provide this service.
Worshipers could also stop at a hand washing station on their way to receive communion at the front of the sanctuary. The hand washers could be adult leaders or families or a children’s church school class.
If worshipers are seated around tables to share a meal as well as communion. Invite worshipers to wash the hands of at least one of their neighbors. Encourage them to wash hands gently, thoroughly, and with love.
Wash hands using a basin of water and towels or make it simpler by using moist towelettes.
Read these Comments from the 2012 post about the power of hand washing experiences during this service.
+ After washing their feet Jesus gives the disciples and us a new rule, “Love one another as I have loved you.” How do we love one another? We wash their feet and do whatever else is needed (even the yucky jobs) to take care of them.
If your congregation uses the term Maundy Thursday (rather than Holy Thursday), explain the origin of Maundy in the Latin “Mandatum.” Mandatum means command or mandate. Maundy Thursday is the day Jesus gave us a new commandment. Then identify the commandment and explore its significance.
Give out the words on a mini poster to place on refrigerator or mirror.
+ After washing the disciple’s feet and sending Judas away to do his deed, Jesus announced, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.” Or, “if you want to see the glory of God, watch me wash feet. If you want to share in the glory of God, wash feet like I do.” God’s glory is not seen in people walking on red carpets or standing on championship stands. God’s glory is seen in people taking care of those around them – even washing their feet when needed. This definition of God’s glory is a hard sell with children and worshippers of all ages.
Sidebar: Peter was offended by Jesus’ offer to wash his feet. Youth and adults today understand his feelings. But, children are used to being tended in many personal ways. So, Peter’s issue isn’t their issue - yet.
+ Even if you are not washing feet or hands, display a towel and a basin prominently throughout the service.
+ If you must do a children’s story on this night and the focus is on foot washing, go to Faith Formation Journeys for a children’s story presenting a crown and a towel with a conversation about what kings do and don’t do.
The Gospel: Luke 22 or Bible Storybook Reading
+ The story of that last meal is at the heart of the day. Children imagine themselves in the room with the disciples eating with Jesus. The Revised Common Lectionary sets John's gospel (with no bread or cup) as the gospel reading for the night. For the sake of the children, you may want to read or tell this story from Luke 22 instead. To keep it very focused read only verses 14-20. Add verses before or after depending on the focus of the service. Remember that keeping it short helps children stay with it. Sitting around tables rather than in rows of chairs or pews (whether you share a meal or not) also brings the story to life. Using a loaf or matzo rather than wafers brings worshipers closer to the food of that first night.
|This book appears in several different covers.|
+ Instead of reading John’s complicated account of this meal, stay with Luke or, even better, read an account from a children’s Bible story book. My favorite is in The Children’s Story Bible in 365 Stories, by Mary Batchelor. The 3 stories about the meal include “Preparing the Passover Meal” which explains why it was important to Jesus to celebrate Passover without going into great detail about Passover, “Looking After Others” which fills in very human details about the significance of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, and “The Passover Meal” which says “As they went on eating the meal, Jesus did something new and wonderful. He changed the old Jewish Passover into a supper with special meaning, that Christians have kept from that day to this” connecting what Jesus did with the sacrament we celebrate today. Read one, two or all three stories. To read all 3 stories takes about 8 minutes.
+ Bishop Tutu weaves the theme of God’s dream of “all people sharing and caring, laughing and loving” through the stories from the Bible in Children of God Storybook Bible. This theme is especially highlighted in his stories of the Last Supper and Crucifixion (both based on Matthew texts but similar to Luke). As he breaks bread at the last supper Jesus says “whenever you break bread and drink wine like this, remember me and remember that someday God’s dream – of everyone sharing and caring, loving and laughing – will come true.” As he dies Jesus prays “Father, forgive them, for they do not understand your dream.” Each story can be read in under 2 minutes.
+ Use the art for the last supper story to explore what everyone was thinking and feeling at the meal. Point out several faces and imagine what the person was thinking and feeling and why they felt that way. The artist has dawn all 12 disciples. Guess together which one might have been Judas.