This assembly focuses on the Christian holiday of Easter, specifically the history and traditions surrounding Maundy Thursday
This assembly explains to children of all faiths why Easter is so important to Christians, and why it is still used as a holiday for schools and businesses. Although we remind children of the overall Easter message, the assembly focuses on Maundy Thursday because this is the least well-known of the various Easter ’landmarks’.
Picture of the Queen giving Maundy Money.
Soon, we’ll be on holiday from school. Do you know why? Yes, because it’ll be Easter. What does everyone know about Easter?
All of that’s true. We do give presents of Easter eggs, and, yes, it is about Jesus dying on the cross and rising again.
What I want you to remember, though, is that for Christians, Easter is the most important of all their festivals – more important than Christmas. Why is that?
Because Easter is about the most important of Christian beliefs, which is that Jesus died for us on the cross and rose again to be with God in heaven.
Easter Day itself is always on a Sunday. That’s the day that Christians celebrate Christ rising from the dead. Before that, on Good Friday, Christians commemorate the death of Jesus on the cross, where he was crucified. But really the whole Easter story starts even before that, with Jesus making his way into Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish Passover – because, of course, Jesus was himself a Jew.
While Jesus was in Jerusalem, just before he was arrested and tried and killed, he had a special Passover meal with his closest followers and friends. It was the last meal that they were to have together, and is known today as the ‘Last Supper’.
Jesus knew, during that meal, that he would soon be killed, and so it was a special time for him. One of the things that he did during the meal was go round with a towel and some water and wash his followers’ feet. He didn’t do that because he thought they were dirty and putting him off his food. In those days, to wash someone’s feet was a sign of great respect, and if you were a leader you would do it to remind everyone, and yourself, that you were no better than the people you were leading.
At the Last Supper, Jesus took the bread and wine and told his disciples to eat and drink them to remember him. Jesus told them to do this because he knew he was going to leave them the next day to be crucified, and that’s why most Christian churches have a service called “Communion” where small amounts of bread and wine are shared as a reminder that Jesus gave his life on the cross.
Traditions of Maundy Thursday
The Last Supper happened on the day before the crucifixion, and because the death of Jesus is remembered on Good Friday, the day before is a Thursday and it’s always called Holy Thursday or by its ancient name of Maundy Thursday. Maundy is from a Latin word meaning “command” and it’s a reminder that Jesus commanded his followers on that night to love one another as he had loved them. This is sometimes called the eleventh commandment.
There are some interesting traditions connected with Maundy Thursday. For example, once, long ago, the king would go to church and wash the feet of some poor people, to show that although he was king, he was also the servant of the people. (Mind you, he asked other people to make sure the feet were pretty clean before be started, which seems a good idea to me if you’re a king.) Kings and queens don’t do that now, though sometimes bishops and other priests of the church do it at a special service.
Our Queen, though, does do something that is a reminder of that old tradition. Each Maundy Thursday she travels to a cathedral – a different one each year. There, a special Maundy service is held. During the service, the Queen goes to a group of elderly people who have been chosen because of their Christian acts and service to other people. She’s accompanied by someone, usually a bishop, wearing a towel round his waist, as a reminder of the foot-washing ritual, and following her are Queen’s Yeomen of the Guard carrying silver dishes above their heads. In the dishes are small bags of money. She gives each of the group of elderly people two small leather bags of money. A red bag contains special coins – Maundy money. A white leather bag contains normal money – this year it will be £5.50.
This year 166 people will receive the Maundy gifts – 83 men and 83 women, one man and one woman for each year of the Queen’s life. The white bag will contain exactly 83 pence in special Maundy coins which are silver pennies, twopennie, threepennies and fourpennies. They are specially made silver coins, that aren’t made for any other purpose. Some people who receive them keep theirs as a precious souvenir. Others – well can you guess? That’s right, they sell them on eBay, because collectors like the Maundy money.
The people who receive the money must find it a memorable occasion. It’s quite different from any other honour, because the Queen goes to the people with the gift rather than the other way round. She takes it very seriously and regards it very much as a true reminder that she serves the people.
One lady, Sybil Buck, who received the Royal Maundy in Manchester two years ago said, “It was a wonderful day. It was amazing to be nominated and I feel very humble Lots of people have done so much good work, why was I chosen?”
Well, Sybil’s being modest, because she was chosen as a thank you for 60 years of devoted hard work for the Girl Guide movement. (1)
This year, the Maundy ceremony will be held in St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.
Jesus, like all true leaders, believed that he was the servant of the people who followed him. He washed the feet of his followers and broke bread with them and sipped wine as a sign of friendship and love.
Christians today believe that all human beings need to be reminded of their equality before God and their duty of service to others. That message is present in some way in all faiths, and all religious leaders have given us that same message of equality and service.
Washing is an important symbol for people of many faiths, and the giving of help to people less fortunate is also something that all religions ask their followers to do. Our Queen is everybody’s queen, and, although the Maundy service is a Christian service, the message that it sends out is something that every person in the land can understand.
Lord, help us to remember that we are all equal in your sight, and that it is our duty to help other people. We thank you for the life of Jesus, for the many lessons he taught us and the sacrifice that he made. Amen.
Maybe you can’t wash someone’s feet, but there are many small acts of service that show respect and love for the people around you.
Our friends at Woodlands Junior have good information on Maundy Thursday, as on so many things.
This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2009
About the author: Gerald Haigh