Mount of Olives panorama

Mount of Olives panorama
A panoramic view of the Mount of Olives

Thursday, April 5, 2012

"Maundy" or Holy Thursday

Regarding the Thursday before Easter, I wrote the following in my Easter book:
In many traditions, the Thursday before Easter is called Maundy Thursday. Maundy is an early English word that derives from the Latin mandatum, meaning “commandment.” As such, it is reminiscent of Jesus’ teaching on this day: “A new commandment I give you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34; emphasis added). Accordingly, some religious communities hold services on Thursday evening to recall Jesus’ institution of the sacrament of the Last Supper, his washing of his disciples’ feet, his final teachings to them, and his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Although Latter-day Saints do not formally observe the day, the events commemorated in the Gospel texts for Thursday hold great significance for us. Because we partake of the sacrament weekly, the Last Supper has particular meaning. Further, insights from Restoration scripture, latter-day apostles, and others regarding the Atonement make the events in Gethsemane especially important. But Thursday also marks some beautiful final teachings of Jesus to his closest disciples as well as other, difficult experiences—such as his betrayal, abandonment, abuse, and false judgment—that were important parts of his descending below all things (D&C 88:6; 122:8).

Carefully reading, reviewing, and pondering the Gospel accounts for this day can be a moving part of our Easter preparations, deepening our appreciation for our Savior and strengthening our faith in his saving power. This day was when the Passion, or saving suffering, of our Lord truly began. During the events of the last night of Jesus’ mortal life, he functioned as our Priest—instituting the sacrament, praying for us, and then in the Garden of Gethsemane taking upon himself the burden of our sins and sorrows, which he carried to Golgotha, where on the next day he offered himself as a sacrifice for sin. (God So Loved the World, 49–50)
With my family in the Garden of Gethsemane, November 2011
I am posting this early in the day, starting with pictures of the sites that I already have on hand.  Pictures from our experience celebrating the Thursday of Easter week now appear in a separate post, such as processions to the traditional site of the Last Supper, commemorations of the Washing of the Feet, a visit to the Garden of Gethsemane, a "Holy Hour of Silence" in the basilica there, and a candlelight walk from Gethsemane through the Kidron Valley to Mount Zion, retracing the steps of Jesus when he was arrested and taken prisoner before Caiaphas.  I am also posting links to the new series of videos of the Savior's life produced by the LDS Church.

Today's scriptures

Matthew 26:17–26:75; Mark 14:12–72; Luke 22:7–71; John 13:1–18:27; see also Mosiah 3:7 and D&C 19:15–20
  • The Last Supper (Matt 26:17–35; Mark 14:12–31; Luke 22:7–38; John 13:1–38)
  • Last Supper Discourses (Luke 22:24–30; John 13:31–17:26)
  • Jesus Goes to Gethsemane: "The Valley of the Shadow of Death" (18:1a)
  • Jesus at Gethsemane (Mark 14:32–42; Matt 26:36–47; Luke 22:39–46; John 18:1b)
  • Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus (Mark 14:43–52; Matt 26:47–56; Luke 22:47–53; John 18:2–3)
  • Jesus Before the Jewish Authorities (Mark 14:43–65; Matt 26:57–68; Luke 22:54–71; John 18–28)
Suggested Music: listen to Bach, St. John Passion; sing “Reverently and Meekly Now.”

For further reading: Raymond Brown, The Death of the Messiah (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 110–660. 

Eric D. Huntsman, "The Lamb of God: Unique Aspects of the Passion Narrative in John," Behold the Lamb of God: An Easter Celebration (Provo: Religious Study Center, 2008), 49–70, n.b., 49–59.

Eric D. Huntsman, "Gethsemane and the Trial," Beholding Salvation Lecture Series, Museum of Art, Brigham Young University, March 14, 2007. Also an Audio CD by Deseret Book, 2007.

Andrew C, Skinner, Gethsemane (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002).

Dana M. Pike, "Before the Jewish Authorities," From the Last Supper to the Resurrection, 210–268.

The Last Supper
  • Preparation of "the Passover" meal (Matt 26:17–19; Mark 14:12–16; Luke 22:7–13)
  • The Last Supper with the Disciples (Matt 26:20–25; Mark 14:17–21; Luke 22:14–18)
  • Institution of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:26–30; Mark 14:22–25; Luke 22:19–20)
  • Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet (John 13:1–20)
  • Jesus Foretells His Betrayal (Luke 22:21–23; John 13:21–30)
  • The New Commandment to Love One Another (13:31–36)
  • Peter’s Denial Foretold (Matt 26:31–35; Mark 14:26–31; Luke 22:31–38; John 13:36–38)
The Crusader-era building where the traditional "Upper Room' is located
The Synoptic Gospels seem to suggest that the Last Supper was a Passover Meal, whereas John is clear that the Passover began at sundown of the day when Christ was crucified. John's account seems to bear the most historical verisimilitude: a criminal would certainly not be crucified during the Passover feast itself. Additionally, the Johannine imagery is strong: the day before Passover was a Preparation Day, and between 3:00-5:00 the paschal lambs were slaughtered in the Temple.[i]  Accordingly, Jesus died on the cross at 3:00 at the very moment the first Passover lamb was sacrificed. Although scholars have proposed a number of ways to resolve the apparent discrepancy, the most likely answer is that Jesus, knowing that he would be dead before Passover began, celebrated the feast early with his friends.
And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. And he said unto them, "With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God." (Luke 22:14–16; see D&C 27:5ff.)
The gospels record two important ordinances at the Last Supper: the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper in the Synoptics the Washing of Feet in John. The earliest reference to the institution of the sacrament in the New Testament is actually in the letters of Paul, which were written before any of the gospels:
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. (1 Corinthians 11:23–26)
Inside the Cenacle or "Upper Room," a later building on the traditional site of the Last Supper
John’s omission of the sacrament is surprising, but sacramental imagery is woven throughout the body of his gospel (e.g. the Bread of Life Discourse, Jesus as the Fountain of Living Water, the Vine, etc.). John does, however, preserve an account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. Although a priesthood ordinance, one aspect of which is alluded to in D&C 88:139–141, the significance of it in the narrative of the gospel of John is as an act of service and love:
Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. . . . So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, "Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." (John 13:3–5, 12–17)
In accordance with this example it is the practice in the Roman Catholic and some other churches for bishops or spiritual leaders to wash the feet of token members of their flock on Maundy Thursday. Similar practices were performed by some European kings, who would wash the feet of peasants and make distributions of coins to the assembled crowds. In the Church today, the ordinance itself is reserved for sacred occasions, but the example of loving and serving others is lived every day.

The Last Supper Discourses

John also preserves several lengthy Last Supper Discourses (14:1–17:26), which focus on the love of Jesus, our relationship to him, and our need to likewise love one another.
Part 1A
  • Christ’s Departure: Jesus the Way to the Father (14:1–14)
  • Promise of the Holy Spirit or Paraclete (or "Comforter," 14:15–26)
  • Peace and the Love of the Father (14:27–31)
Part 2
  • Jesus the True Vine (15:1–17)
  • The Hatred of the World (15:18–16:4a)
Part 1B
  • Christ’s Departure: The Work of the Spirit (16:4b–15)
  • Christ’s Departure: Sorrow Will Turn to Joy (16:16–24)
  • Peace and the Love of the Father (16:25–33)
Part 3
  • The Great Intercessory Prayer (17:1–26)
Throughout the discourses, but especially in chapters 14 and 16, Jesus focuses on the imminence of his departure, but insists that his coming sacrifice is necessary for our salvation. In the famous opening of the first discourse, he assured his disciples:
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:1–3)
“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).
The teachings in these discourses are too rich to give even a perfunctory review here. Instead we only note the love that motivated Jesus’ great atoning sacrifice and the powerful parallel of the sorrow of the passion to the pains of a woman in childbirth—terrible at the time but giving way to greater joy.
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12–13)
Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. (John 16:20–22)
The discourses end with the famous Intercessory Prayer, also known as the Great High Priestly Prayer, of chapter 17 wherein Jesus explained the purpose of his sacrifice: to make us one with each other and one with God and Christ. This is, in reality, the essence of the Atonement—the at-on-ment—and having prayed that God will grant this end, he went forth ready to do what was necessary to bring it about.

View "Jesus Warns Peter and Offers the Intercesssory Prayer," Bible Videos.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death
 Jesus’ route from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane would have taken him through the Kidron Valley, which separates Jerusalem and the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives to the east. The Kidron Valley was deeper in ancient times and hence in shadow much of the day. Then, as now, its eastern slopes on the Mount of Olives were covered with tombs. Both of these features give poignant meaning to the well-known passage from Psalm 23:4: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” (God So Loved the World, 58)
The sun begins to set on the Kidron Valley

Modern orthodox Jews mourn over graves on the slopes of the Mount of Olives

Second Temple Period Tombs that Jesus would have walked by
Darkness begins to fall on the bottom of the Kidron Valley
Jesus at Gethsemane

The Basilica of the Agony at Gethsemane at dusk

  • Jesus Prays that his disciples not enter into "temptation" or "the time of trial" (peirasmon; Luke 22:40)
  • Jesus Has the Disciples, Presumably Eleven of the Twelve but Perhaps Including Others at this Point, Sit Apart and Takes Peter, James and John Further (Mark 14:32b–33a; Matt 26:36b–37a)
  • Jesus’ Soul Becomes Sorrowful; Three Disciples Asked to Pray (Mark 14:33b–34; Matt 26:37b–38)
  • Jesus Suffers and Prays that the Cup May Pass (Mark 14:33–36; Matt 26:37–39; Luke 22:41–42)
  • An Angel Appears to Strengthen Jesus [Luke 22:43]
  • Jesus Sweats Blood [Luke 22:44]
  • Finds Peter, James, and John Sleeping (three times: Mark 14:37–42; Matt 26:40–46; only once: Luke 22:45–46)
John is sparing of the details of what occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane, either out of reverence for its sacredness or because "plain and precious parts" of his account have been lost (see D&C 93:18).  The Synoptics, however, recount that Jesus took his three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John part way into the garden and then left them to watch and pray while he went in further.  There he "began to be sore amazed and very sorrowful" (Mark 14:22 and parallels).  Of this experience, Elder Neal A. Maxwell has tenderly written:
Later, in Gethsemane, the suffering Jesus began to be ‘sore amazed’ (Mark 14:33), or, in the Greek, ‘awestruck’ and ‘astonished.’ Imagine, Jehovah, the Creator of this and other worlds, "astonished!" Jesus knew cognitively what He must do, but not experientially. He had never personally known the exquisite and exacting process of an atonement before. Thus, when the agony came in its fulness, it was so much, much worse than even He with his unique intellect had ever imagined! No wonder an angel appeared to strengthen him!

The cumulative weight of all mortal sins—past, present, and future—pressed upon that perfect, sinless, and sensitive Soul! All our infirmities and sicknesses were somehow, too, a part of the awful arithmetic of the Atonement. The anguished Jesus not only pled with the Father that the hour and cup might pass from Him, but with this relevant citation. ‘And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me.’ (Mark 14:35–36.)" (Neal A. Maxwell, "Willing to Submit," Ensign, May 1985, 70ff.)
Mark, Matthew, and Luke agree on what happened next.  Falling upon the ground, he pled with his Father that thus cup could pass, but then in harmony with his nature since the beginning, he submitted to his Father's will.
When in the wondrous realms above our Savior had been called upon to save our world of sin by love, He said, "Thy will, O Lord, be done.”

The King of Kings left worlds of light, became the meek and lowly One; in brightest day or darkest night, He said, “Thy will, O Lord, be done.” (hymn 188)
Of the Synoptics, Luke preserves additional, critical details, including the important appearance of an angel to comfort or assist the Lord and the fact that his agony resulted in his sweating blood (Luke 22:43–44).  Although some scholars have called into question the text of these two verses, latter-day revelation confirms the "sweating of blood" and gives us the greatest insight into the events of Gethsemane, where Jesus took upon us the weight of our sins and sorrows and began the process of the Atonement.
And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people." (Mosiah 3:7)
For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men." (D&C 19:16–19)
Our family takes a turn crushing olives at the BYU Jerusalem Center

The screw press vividly illustrates the crushing weight of the Atonement on our Lord
View "The Savior Suffers in Gethsemane," Bible Videos.

Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus
  • Judas Leads Arresting Party to Jesus (Mark 14:43; Matt 26:47; Luke 22:47a; John 18:2–3)
  • Judas Identifies Jesus with a Kiss (Mark 14:44–46; Matt 26:48–50; Luke 22:47b–48)
  • Jesus’ "I Am" Proclamation to the Arresting Party (John 18:4–8a)
  • Jesus Intervenes for His Disciples (John 18:8b–9)
  • Servant of the High Priest Wounded (Mark 14:47; Matt 26:51; Luke 22:49–50; John 18:10)
  • Jesus Rebukes the Defending Disciple (Matt 26:52–54; Luke 22:51a; John 18:11)
  • Jesus Heals the High Priest’s Servant (Luke 22:51b)
  • Jesus Rebukes the Arresting Party (Mark 14:48–50; Matt 26:55–56a; Luke 22:52–53)
  • Disciples Abandon Jesus (Mark 14:50; Matt 26:56b)
  • Young Man in the Linen Cloth (Mark 14:51–52)
Betrayal, abandonment, abuse, false arrest, unjust judgment.  All of these are harsh words, terrible concepts.  All of them are experiences Jesus had following his agony in the Garden, when our Lord suffered another blow, beginning with his betrayal by his friend Judas and the subsequent indignities of his arrest and trial. 

As part of the "atoning journey" begun when Jesus took upon himself our sins, pains, and sorrows, he "descended below all things" and experienced the terrible realities of betrayal, false judgment, arrest, and rejection. No wife betrayed by a husband, no child abused by a parent, no friend rejected by another will fail to resonate with Jesus' being betrayed by the kiss of a friend, abandoned by the disciples, and denied, if only briefly, by Peter. No one ever falsely judged can fail to relate as to how Jesus, innocent and pure, was falsely accused and condemned.

Jesus Before the Jewish Authorities
  • Jesus before the former High Priest Annas (John 18:12–14; 19–24)
  • Jesus Before the High Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:53–64; Matt 26:57–68; Luke 22:54a [22:66–71 after the denial and the mocking]; John 18:24, 28)
  • Jesus Mocked by the Jewish Guards (Mark 14:65; Matt 26:67–68; Luke 22:63–65)
  • Peter’s Denial (Mark 14:66–72; Matt 26:69–75; Luke 22:54b–62; John 18:17–27)
  • Morning Hearing Before the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:1; Matt 27:1; Luke 22:63–71)
Mother at St. Peter's in Gallicantu or "of the Cock's Crow"
Matthew, Mark, and John have Jesus examined and perhaps tried by various Jewish authorities during the course of the night after Jesus’ arrest. Scholarship is divided on whether the Jewish authorities had the right to execute a person condemned for blasphemy, one of the charges discussed in Matthew and Mark. Luke portrays a formal hearing before the Sanhedrin the next morning; this was mostly likely an investigative hearing to gather information for the charges to be laid before Pilate.

But during this procedure, whatever it actually was, Jesus witnessed on of his closest friends denying that he knew him or was one of his company.  I have written concerning the denial of Peter and the arguments that some have made trying to understand it or explain it (see God So Loved the World, 68–69), but here I will simply quote the following: 
. . . the discussion about Peter’s denial raises an important point: we cannot, and should not, try to judge the actions of the historical figure of the apostle, given how little we know about the full circumstances. As President Kimball said, “I do not pretend to know what Peter’s mental reactions were nor what compelled him to say what he did that terrible night. But in light of his proven bravery, courage, great devotion, and limitless love for the Master, could we not give him the benefit of the doubt and at least forgive him as his Savior seems to have done so fully.  Almost immediately Christ elevated him to the highest position in his church and endowed him with the complete keys of that kingdom.”

On the other hand, it is fairly clear that the portrayal of the literary character of Peter in the Gospel accounts fits the general pattern of betrayal, abandonment, and confusion that characterizes that awful night. Accordingly, we should instead consider how all people are prone to fall short in their discipleship, particularly in difficult circumstances. In this case, the experience of Peter serves as an encouraging model for us: Regardless of what he may or may not have done, as President Kimball has taught, it is what he went on to do afterwards that really matters. Perhaps even more important, Jesus’ questioning of Peter in John 21:15–19 allows Peter to reaffirm his love for the Savior three times, perhaps balancing the earlier three-fold denial. Thus in Peter’s momentary failure and his later complete redemption is illustrated the full power of Jesus’ grace. So it is with us: As we slip and fail, we can take heart that we can repent and return to the Lord, who will accept our love and then empower us to overcome our weaknesses, strengthening us to do things beyond our own ability.
View "Jesus is Tried by Caiaphas, Peter Denies Knowing Him," Bible Videos.

My friend Rick, Mother, and my niece Lindsay stand at the foot of first century steps up which Jesus may have been led the night of his arrest

Lindsay and Mother sitting in the remains of a first century palace that may have been that of the high priest Caiaphas

Scourging area in the palace's dungeon

Votive candles remember our Lord's suffering that night


  1. Thanks so much for posting such great information! As a family we are trying to follow along this easter week of activities.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience while in the Holy Land and for so enriching our Easter Celebration by posting these pics and videos.