The Privilege of Footwashing

Without the footwashing ceremony, the Passover service would require almost no interaction with our fellow Church members. It would be an intensely private experience—a whole congregation in the same room, eating the bread in silence, drinking the wine in silence, singing a hymn and then quietly walking out.

Those parts are important; please don’t misunderstand me. The bread and the wine symbolize the very reason Passover—and yes, the entire plan of God—is even possible. But the footwashing ceremony, described for us only in the gospel of John, is our one chance to interact with those around us—and I don’t believe it was placed at the beginning of the service by accident.

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Footwashing reminds us that every single one of us in that room depends on Christ’s sacrifice. He died for me, yes—but He also died for my brethren, for the people whose feet I have the privilege to get down on my knees and wash. Footwashing jars me out of my own personal bubble and reminds me that the Passover service, Christ’s sacrifice, is as important for those around me as it is for me. They are my brothers and my sisters. They are sons and daughters of God. They are my family.

Christ told His disciples, “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:13-15). What strikes me about this instruction is that it doesn’t include the qualifier we see attached to the bread and the wine. Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:17-32 make it clear that the symbols of Christ’s body and blood are to be taken only at the annual Passover (the words “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup” implying not “as often as you want to” but “as often as you observe the yearly Passover”).

Christ gave no such restriction when it comes to footwashing. The command was to “do as I have done to you.” That sentence didn’t end with “but only once a year and because you have to”; it ended with a period. What does that mean? Are we supposed to go out and sporadically insist on washing our brethren’s feet all throughout the year?

No, it’s something that goes deeper than that. What Christ did to His disciples—what He told them to do for each other—was to serve. The Lord of all creation got down on His knees to perform the kind of job that typically belonged to a servant, and then told His followers, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”

We’re not in this alone. We never have been. Thousands have come before us, many more will come after us, and right now, in this moment, many are coming with us. The bread and the wine at Passover reminds us that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ applies to each of us on an individual level, but the footwashing reminds us that there are other people in the room—that these people are important to God and they should be important to us too.

Christ served, and then told us to go and do likewise. The attitude behind footwashing might begin with Passover, but it certainly shouldn’t end with it. God wants each of us to develop the heart of a servant as we make our way toward the Kingdom, arm in arm with our brethren.

“Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing”

(Matthew 24:45-46)

Until next time,
Jeremy

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