John 13: 1-17
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet. Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only, but my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater that the one who sent them. If you know these things you are blessed if you do them.”
The Scripture reading for this Maundy Thursday centers on Jesus washing the feet of the Disciples. It follows immediately after the Last Supper that Jesus would eat with his friends before he was arrested, crucified, and buried. Many churches have foot washing services following Maundy Thursday Holy Communion. There are few things more humbling that having a senior pastor, a professor, or a beloved friend take your feet into their hands and gently wash and dry them. I have done these sorts of services many times over the years, both as a foot washer and a recipient of foot washing. But even though I always find it a deeply moving experience, I always think that when Jesus said we are to wash one another’s feet, he must surely have meant something more that to simply have a ceremonial washing of the feet of our friends and peers.
In the dark days of Aparteid in South Africa, a small Black congregation had a Maundy Thursday service, and in the spirit of hope and reconciliation, they had invited a very prominent attorney to come and wash the feet of the black woman who for many years had taken care of his children. He agreed to do this.
On the night of the service, the church was filled with people. And the lawyer knelt before this woman , and he took her elderly black feet in his hands. He thought of all the times she had washed, and kissed the feet of his children as she bathed and cared for them. He was unexpectedly overwhelmed by the thought of the love she had given his babies. And so as he dried those dear feet, he bent low and kissed them, just as she had done for his babies so many times. A murmur of surprise and approval ran through the congregation. But the story soon leaked out, and the judgeship that the lawyer had been expected to receive was swiftly conferred upon someone else.
The pastor of that little church was devastated, and went by night to the lawyer’s house to apologize, and to say that had he known what would have happened to the lawyer, he would never have asked him to come. To which the lawyer replied, “If I had known, I would have come anyway.”
What does it mean to wash the feet of one another? Is it simply a ceremony, or does it involve a price? I think of the brave youth pastor in a who took his UMYF group to the homeless of his city armed with soap and basins of warm water. They washed the feet of those sisters and brothers in Christ, beloved children of God, who had fallen on hard times, and gave each of them a sandwich and a pair of soft new socks. Jesus has set the example. It is ours to follow.
Lord, in this most Holy, yet strangest of times, teach us to love and serve one another, following your example. Amen.
Kneel at the feet of his friends, silently washing their feet,
Master who acts as a slave to them.
The neighbors we have from you.
Kneel at the feet of our friends, silently washing their feet,
This is the way we should live with you.
Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve
The neighbors we have from you.
Pastor Rachel Moser