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How to Have a Maundy Thursday Liturgy at Home

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Maundy Thursday, the remembrance of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet at the last supper may be the most embodied moment of Holy Week. It might be the most embodied moment on the church calendar.

But that doesn’t mean it needs to be in a church building.

First Church is a traditional Methodist congregation in Pennsylvania that is exploring how to have expressions that are both gathered and sent. They began to see people who not coming to church building get caught up in Christian community. These new gospel outposts created a need to rethink how they were gathering, especially during Holy Week. Here is what they did in 2019, adapted for this year:

How They Explained a New Kind of Liturgy

On April 9th, instead of gathering for a worship service, we will worship together in our homes. The idea is that we will all share in the Lord’s Supper around a table at the same time, just as Jesus and his disciples did. We want to embody the message of Acts 2:46 that says, “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”’

To give you a better idea of what to expect, on Holy Thursday there will be dozens of groups that meet in homes to do three things:

    1. Have dinner together
    2. Spend some time in a devotional
    3. Tune in to a live-stream at 6:30 PM, where Pastor Matt will lead us in communion.

In order to accomplish all this, we need people willing to host. Responsibilities of a host are three-fold:

    1. Provide a meal: whether you want a potluck on fancy china, or to share a pizza on paper plates, that’s up to you.
    2. Lead a devotional discussion: we will provide the materials
    3. Pick up the consecrated communion elements from the church on Wednesday (4/8) or Thursday (4/9).

These two-minute videos demonstrate how they described the experience to their congregation. The first is from the first time they did it in 2019. The second was made before the coronavirus quarantine forced them to change their plans.

Pivoting After Coronavirus

Thankfully, because they had already reoriented their congregation’s expectations, First Church already had resources. They had created a daily devotional for each day of Holy Thursday.

Here’s the announcement they made once restrictions were in place:

Due to COVID-19, we’ll need to adjust our expectations for Holy Thursday so that we can be sure to abide by the social distancing guidelines. Therefore, we encourage families to gather together to share a meal, spend time in a devotional (found in the Holy Week Devotional below), and share in communion (please provide your own bread and juice) as Pastor Matt leads it via live-stream at 6:30 PM, which you can find at live.firstchurch.cc.

Checklist for Creating Your Own Maundy Thursday Home Liturgy

With Holy Week around the corner, you will need ways to connect their new, daily reality with the restrictions in place for public health. Here are some simple steps to creating your own Home Liturgy experience for your family or your entire congregation.

  1. Invite people to join you, online or in person. Check the social distancing guidelines for your area, and discuss your household’s needs. If you can’t meet in person, you can use an online tool like Zoom’s “meeting” feature to interact with others. Whether it’s in person or online, groups of 10 or less work best. You can use adapt the following invitation:

    Hello Friend. Easter is coming, but before that is Maundy Thursday, the Christian celebration of Jesus last night with his best friends. We will be hosting a special meal and worship time in our home. We would love if you could join us via Zoom or in person. Please plan to bring your own food, as well as some bread and wine for a part of the meal called “The Eucharist.” We will be following strict social distancing guidelines, but we hope you can join us.

  2. Create an Order of Worship. Decide what you want to do during this interactive meal. You can use a classic tool like The Book of Common Prayer, or you can create your own. A basic order of worship should include:

      • Greeting time. Take a moment to say hi and check in with people. Whether you do this in person or on video, take a moment to let each individual share how they are doing during the crisis.
      • Call to Worship. Have a prayer that reminds people they are always in God’s presence.
      • Eat together. Just eat and chat with those who you have gathered. This may be tricky with online interactions, but even having a friend “there with you” on mute can be comforting.
      • Gospel reading. Read the story of Maundy Thursday from John 13. If you have kids with you, consider reading the version from the Children’s Storybook Bible as well.
      • Wash feet. It might not sound pleasant, but Christians have done it for 2,000 years! Have a bowl of warm water, soap, clean towels and lotion available. Invite people to participate, but do not pressure them.
      • Take the Eucharist. As you do on many Sundays, share the bread and the wine. Don’t forget to tell your online participants they need bread and wine.
      • Close with prayer. End your time with a prayer that thanks Jesus for his sacrifice.

  3. Follow Up. After Maundy Thursday, be sure to thank people for their participation. Ask them what they took away and what they would do again. Remember, you don’t have to wait for Holy Week or a pandemic to worship in your home around a table.
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