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. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfil the scripture, “The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.’
There must have been a felt silence after Jesus finished washing the disciples’ feet – all the disciples, not just a select few. I doubt any of them ever forgot it.
A minister tells of the time when she was part of a group visiting an African church on Maundy Thursday. After the table was laden with food, the minister’s wife, Agnes, left the room. When she reappeared, she held a basin of warm water. A couple of towels over her shoulder. One by one, she knelt and washed the guests’ hands. Agnes was the Christlike servant in their midst. She had prepared the wonderful meal, and now she washed their dirty hands.
Even though the disciples would remember the event, some didn’t understand why Jesus did this. Certainly, they knew He had washed their feet but there must have been a deeper meaning. He then said, “If I have washed your feet, being the Lord and Master as you call me, you should wash one another’s feet.” I’ve wondered why He said this. Had none of the disciples ever done this at the beginning of the Passover? Had any of them ever done this when they had stayed at a lodging place anywhere on their travels? This might have given the disciples something to really consider—note that there is not one word of theirs recorded at this point. After this, Jesus went on to say, “I gave you an example that you would do to each other what I did for you”.
In this time a mark of love and service is how Christ best becomes present among us – in acts of humble service from key workers and volunteers, in those who are served, in the ICU patient who is tenderly cared for or in the face of the supermarket worker offering a smile at the till.
Jesus, fill us with your love!
We seek to love the way Jesus loved with humble actions. the kind of actions that may never be noticed. – to serve in the hard and the messy. – to serve others without glamour and without acclaim. – to leave the table where we might be served and serve others instead. Not just to serve those who love us but to serve our enemies with equal compassion and humility. Amazingly, when obedience feels like it costs so much, you promise blessing instead. Amen
The Rev’d Sue Henderson retired URC Minister worshipping at United Church Bradford on Avon