Maundy Thursday Inspirational Art

Maundy Thursday

The week prior to Resurrection Day is called “Holy Week.” Thursday of this week is sometimes called “Holy Thursday” or “Great Thursday” or historically, “Maundy Thursday.” Maundy (“mondee”) is from a Latin Word, mandatum, which means “commandment” signifying the command Jesus gave at the Last Supper on Thursday– to serve one another and to remember His sacrifice. Many free Protestant churches don’t celebrate the holiday specifically or have special services, but where it is celebrated it sometimes includes footwashing as an act of service. Since Footwashing is only mentioned once as a religious practice in scripture (John 12), and not using the same language and type of instruction of the “ordinances” of baptism and the Lord’s Table (communion, eucharist), it is typically not considered an ordinance and only a very small number of Christian denominations practice it regularly as an ordinance. Even so, it is sometimes done in association with Maundy Thursday as a devotional practice.
In commemoration of this year’s Maundy Thursday, I wanted to share this expandable (click to expand) image of Bellini’s Agony in the Garden, signifying Jesus after the Last Supper in Gethsemane. It’s stylized for that time period, of course, but it gives a glimpse of how the event was characterized in art, and it provides inspiration and opportunity for reflection. Enjoy!

The Agony in the Garden (Giovanni Bellini, c. 1465)

Giovanni Bellini, active about 1459; died 1516 The Agony in the Garden about 1465 Egg on wood, 81.3 x 127 cm Bought, 1863 NG726
Giovanni Bellini, The Agony in the Garden (c. 1465)
The Agony in the Garden is an early painting by the Italian Renaissance master Giovanni Bellini, who painted it around 1459–65. It is in the National Gallery, London.  It portrays Christ kneeling on the Mount of Olives in prayer, with his disciples Peter, James and John sleeping near to him.  The picture is closely related to the similar work by Bellini’s brother-in-law, Andrea Mantegna, also in the National Gallery. It is likely that both derived from a drawing by Bellini’s father, Jacopo.[1] In Bellini’s version, the treatment of dawn light has a more important role in giving the scene a quasi-unearthly atmosphere. Until the mid-19th century Early Renaissance paintings were regarded as curiosities by most collectors. This one had probably belonged to Consul Smith in Venice (d. 1770), was bought by William Beckford at the Joshua Reynolds sale in 1795 for £5, then sold in 1823 with Fonthill Abbey and repurchased by Beckford at the Fonthill Sale the next year (as a Mantegna) for £52.10s. It was bought by the National Gallery for £630 in 1863, still a low price for the day.[2]  Source

Call To Action

  • Read the passage in each of the Synoptic Gospels

Matthew 26:36-46 (NIV)
36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
Mark 14:32-52 (The Message)
The Message is a modern paraphrase of the Bible. Though a loose ‘translation’ or, better, paraphrase of the text, it still provides inspirational insight into God’s Word and is beneficial for reading. Try it.

32-34 They came to an area called Gethsemane. Jesus told his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with him. He plunged into a sinkhole of dreadful agony. He told them, “I feel bad enough right now to die. Stay here and keep vigil with me.”

35-36 Going a little ahead, he fell to the ground and prayed for a way out: “Papa, Father, you can—can’t you?—get me out of this. Take this cup away from me. But please, not what I want—what do you want?”
37-38 He came back and found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, you went to sleep on me? Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert, be in prayer, so you don’t enter the danger zone without even knowing it. Don’t be naive. Part of you is eager, ready for anything in God; but another part is as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.”
39-40 He then went back and prayed the same prayer. Returning, he again found them sound asleep. They simply couldn’t keep their eyes open, and they didn’t have a plausible excuse.
41-42 He came back a third time and said, “Are you going to sleep all night? No—you’ve slept long enough. Time’s up. The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up. Let’s get going. My betrayer has arrived.”
Luke 22:39-46 (CSB)
39 He went out and made His way as usual to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed Him. 40 When He reached the place, He told them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 Then He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and began to pray, 42 “Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me—nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”
[43 Then an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. 44 Being in anguish, He prayed more fervently, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.][a] 45 When He got up from prayer and came to the disciples, He found them sleeping, exhausted from their grief.[b] 46 “Why are you sleeping?” He asked them. “Get up and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation.”

  • Next, meditate on the experience of each of the people in the painting
  1. How might Peter have experienced the Garden of Gethsemane and its events, especially when Jesus personally confronted him?
  2. How might James and John have experienced the Garden of Gethsemane, especially when they were found sleeping while Jesus was in his pain?
  3. How might Jesus have felt and what was He experiencing, knowing that He was soon to be falsely arrested and would soon have to suffer separation from God for the sins of humanity at the crucifixion?
  • Finally, end with a time of prayer, asking God to give you the grace to serve others as He did.  

Devotional Questions:

  1. How can I serve God more?
  2. How can I serve my spouse/significant others more?
  3. How can I serve my children more?
  4. How can I serve my parents more?
  5. How can I serve the world to show them God’s love?