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 now 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 also 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, he said to them, ‘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 than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
When I was in seminary, I attended a Maundy Thursday foot washing service in the chapel on campus. As part of the service, professors were washing the feet of their students. I was directed to the station where an older African-American professor who commanded tremendous respect, had been a faith leader since the civil rights movement and was a person that I held in very high esteem was washing feet. He shouldn’t be washing my feet, I should be washing his feet, I thought to myself as I approached the basin.
Nonetheless, he bent down and began to pour warm water over my feet, wiped them down and dried them off with a towel in his lap. I felt ashamed seeing him stooped before me with all of the uncomfortable dynamics of race, age, gender and orientation embodied in him offering the same ritual that Jesus offered to his disciples. I felt a strange mix of confusion, vulnerability, humility and gratitude as I walked back to my pew and reflected on the meaning of this very personal and intimate experience.
Foot washing to me is a reminder of the sacrifices that have been made on our behalf by those who have come before us. So many people, including this professor, have sacrificed much and worked hard to bring about a world that is better for me and for all who have felt marginalized in some way. Jesus invites us on this Maundy Thursday to receive the gift of God’s unconditional love and to live out that love in service to others.
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