Today is the beginning of the Great Three Days of the Christian liturgical calendar and this first of the days is Maundy Thursday.
In the simplest of explanations, it is the remembrance of The Last Supper in which Jesus Christ told the disciples that this was his last meal with them and that to always remember that meal in the celebration of the Holy Communion until his return.
The Christian Orthodox depiction of The Last Supper below is what both the Western and Eastern churches imagine the scene to be.
For most in the Western liturgical traditions, it can begin with the blessing of the Chrism oils to be used on The Great Vigil of Easter for the newly baptised. Before celebrating the Holy Communion,
often times there will be a washing of the feet. No, it is not a pedicure, just a simple bit of water being poured on the feet of the congregants as a commemoration of what Jesus did. Then is the Holy Communion. Once that is done there is a ceremonial stripping of the altar. Everything is taken off the altar and the remaining communion bread/wafers and wine are taken to a box of reserved sacraments to be used at Good Friday services. Some stripping of the altars are more elaborate than others. A good explanation is in this link.
In the Eastern Orthodox churches, it is celebrated differently and also tweaked for local custom. Most Orthodox churches are based on ethnicity and geographically. Again a good explanation is found here.
One aspect of this day is the division in American Christianity.
There are whole Christians that have absolutely no idea of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and the Great Vigil of Easter.
Regrettably this is due to strong theological differences between fundamentalist Protestants and some evangelical Christians.
It is one of the reasons I admit I have a great deal of disagreement with by evangelical brothers and sisters.
What they miss is that the three days are true to the biblical account of the Last Supper, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the Resurrection on Sunday morning.
I suppose that a rightful objection is the bells and smells aspect for some evangelicals. I mean, if one belongs to Anglicanism, Lutheran or any other Protestant liturgical church, why is there so much ritual, especially on these days?
Speaking as an Anglican, I can say that some churches are High Churches and they emphasise the Catholic tradition. Vestments, albs, chasubles, incense and the like. In many but certainly not all Anglican/Episcopal churches today, much of this list is found in any given worship service. At this point the catholic, small c, forms of worship are predominant in worship. But the big ones, well they come out in this time of the church year.
But, many evangelical Anglican/Episcopal churches do not go all liturgical crazy. They do celebrate the Great Three Days in a more subdued manner and remember the meaning in this remembrance.
I for one consider myself a Protestant but have no fear that a little tradition and ritual will suddenly make me a papist.
Yet there are many Christians can not get past that and thus do not appreciate the whole of why there is a Christian church of any kind.
It is the Last Supper, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It would be a wonderful thing if all Christians can unite and celebrate the Great Three Days together. But alas, we can not.
As for me, it is very important to recognize the whole meaning of Jesus Christ. And the Last Supper, aka Maundy Thursday is a great way to start.