On the night before Jesus was killed, he had one final dinner with his disciples in which he would sum up much of his life’s message and teaching with a symbolic practice. Jesus — ever the master of using parables to illustrate and emphasize various truths about God, humanity, and the evil one — would use these last moments not to tell one final parable, but to enact one. He would model for his disciples, and for us, exactly what God’s posture towards us was like in sending the incarnation and exactly what our posture, then, must be towards those around us. While this practice dealt with power, it didn’t do so in a way anyone expected.
“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God…” This was John’s build up to the moment: Jesus knew he had all power and authority, he knew his source and his destiny. At this point, as the reader, we might expect Jesus to stand up and give a rousing speech or lift a sword to the heavens, shout some war cry, or set some covert plan in place to take down Rome — but this isn’t what Jesus does in response to his certainty and strength. Instead, we read that Jesus rose from the meal, only to remove his coat, wrap a towel around his waist, and then kneel before each disciple, washing their feet each in turn.
The Maundy in Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin word maundatum, meaning command, and references the statement Jesus makes moments after he washes his disciples’ feet, when he seems to explain what he was doing: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Tonight, we will reenact Jesus’ symbolic gesture together by washing each other’s feet, as a way of remembering God’s love for us and embodying the love he calls us to have for one another.
Before moving onto foot washing, take a moment to read John’s account of this story and take Communion together (whether the symbolic elements or a full meal). As the elements are passed out or plates are dished up, have someone read John 13v1-17 out loud.
Practice for Tonight
Tonight, we will be symbolically washing each others’ feet to remember God’s love for us and our call to love each other. Below you will find some helpful details to keep in mind.
Supplies: Make sure you have the following items.
- Some sort of pitcher or large cup or bowl filled with warm water
- Some sort of bucket or bin in which to catch the poured out water
- A few towels with which to dry feet (and perhaps one on the ground below the bucket or bin)
Process: The Community Leader will be “washing” the feet of each person in your Community. If your Community has co-Leaders, they can split the washing and then wash each other’s feet. If not, select someone who will wash the Leader’s feet at the end. When you’re ready and everyone understands the order, here’s how it works:
- To maintain an atmosphere of worship, invite everyone to remain quietly reflective and play some sort of worship or instrumental music. We made a playlist that you are welcome to use.
- Have the person whose feet are being washed sit in a chair with their feet in the bin or bucket.
- The Leader will “wash” their feet by simply pouring the warm water from the pitcher over their feet.
- The Leader will then take a towel and dry the person’s feet.
- Repeat steps 2 – 4 until every person has had their feet washed.
- John’s telling of this story seems to suggest that Jesus washes the disciples’ feet without saying a word until he gets to Peter, who was likely increasingly uncomfortable and embarrassed as he watched his Rabbi move from person to person, getting closer and closer. You may have experienced some similar level of discomfort or awkwardness as you awaited your turn. What was your experience like as you waited, as it happened, and afterwards? Did you notice anything interesting come up in you? (e.g. feelings of unworthiness, humility, honor, love, etc.)
- Why do you think Jesus chose foot washing as his enacted parable to teach us to love each other?
- Was it easier for you to wash someone’s feet or to have your own feet washed? Why do you think that was?
- Foot washing was Jesus’ symbol for radically loving people. What is some way in which you could radically love a person or people in your life in response to his radical love for you?
Practice for the Week Ahead
For the week ahead, spend some intentional time reflecting on God’s love for you and ask the Spirit what you could do to radically love those around you. As you listen, do so ready to respond to what it is you sense him saying. Invite the Spirit to not just speak to you, but to empower you to love the way Jesus did.
Close in Prayer
Before you end your time together, pray, thanking God for his love and asking for his empowering presence to love others in the same way. Take some time to pray for other prayer requests as they come up.