A central portion of the gospel narrative is found in John 13 where Jesus prepares for his impending death by gathering his disciples in an upper room. There we are told that he performed the action of the household servant by washing the feet of his twelve disciples (John 13:1-17). I must have read this text a thousand times, maybe more. I have preached it verse-by-verse. But I have never seen a reason to ritually participate in a foot washing service. That ended last evening in a simple, but wonderful, way.
Maundy Thursday is not only an evening for taking the Lord’s Supper, since it was initiated on that evening before Good Friday, but it has traditionally been a time to participate in the washing of feet, at least in churches that practice ancient traditions in worship. Like so many things I have learned over recent years, especially through liturgy, this ceremony seemed so odd to me.
In the service I participated in last evening we went forward in groups of twelve and sat at a long table with a place setting and a simple piece of bread and a cup of wine. After taking the meal, in remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice and that last evening with his twelve, we then we invited to stop at a foot washing station where we would have our feet washed. It was very simple. Placing my feet in a large bowl, water was poured from a pitcher over my feet and then they were carefully and slowly dried. Nothing was said at all. The symbolism was rich and the experience focused my mind and heart upon becoming a true servant of others.
The sermon simply reminded me of the danger of an "us/them" world view. Ministers are especially prone to think this way and to see people as part of "us" or as "them," the opposition who will not listen or follow. Tom shared how he had written an angry letter to a denominational minister and then the next year, when he stopped at a foot washing station in a gathering, the man who washed his feet was the man he had written the angry letter to a year earlier. It was humorous but it soon became a "gotcha" moment as we all realized that there were people we had wronged who might also wash our feet, and vice versa.
Thus a central feature of this service was reconciliation. I asked God to
help me forgive those who have hurt me and to use me as a servant to
them in whatever way he deemed appropriate as his providence leads me
step-by-step. I must "wash the feet" of others, not just ceremonially, as moving as the ceremony was last evening, but in reality. The ceremony is precious but the reality is what truly matters.