Thinking Out Loud

March 30, 2010

Foot Washing on Maundy Thursday

2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. ~John 13: 2-5 (NIV)

What’s that saying?  “A fanatic is someone who loves Jesus more than you do.”  Today I felt somewhat spiritually outclassed.

I spoke with someone and asked what their church was doing for Holy Week.   They told me that their church was doing a service on Thursday, as well as Good Friday.

Thursday is called Maundy Thursday.    The theological page Theopedia doesn’t cover it for some strange reason, but the regular Wikipedia site offers two explanations for the name, of which I give you the first:

Foot washing in Singapore, 2008

According to a common theory, the English word Maundy in that name for the day is derived through Middle English, and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you”), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John (13:34) by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet. The phrase is used as the antiphon sung during the “Mandatum” ceremony of the washing of the feet, which may be held during Mass or at another time as a separate event, during which a priest or bishop (representing Christ) ceremonially washes the feet of others, typically 12 persons chosen as a cross-section of the community.

As an aside, if you’re into church hopping, this is the day for you:

The tradition of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday is an ancient practice, probably originating in Rome, where early pilgrims visited the seven pilgrim churches as penance.

Anyway, this church is having a foot washing as part of their Thursday service, and I was told, “Come and join us and we will wash your feet.”

I’ve never said that to anyone.   And I’ve never washed anyone’s feet.   I’m not totally comfortable with doing this or having it done for me.  But the Biblical mandate to do this is quite clear. I feel like my spiritual pilgrimage is somewhat incomplete, like the person who has never been to Israel (or Wheaton, Illinois; the one time Evangelical equivalent, now displaced by Colorado Springs or Nashville; I’m not sure which.)

14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. ~John 13: 14-17 (NIV)

Does anyone see a loophole here?   An opt-out clause?  A reason why this doesn’t apply in the current dispensation?

I don’t.


  1. I’d feel a bit squirmy attending service like this. I’d want to make sure I’d washed my feet before I went.

    I’d be uncomfortable having someone wash my feet. But the apostles wouldn’t have been. They’d have felt quite at home.

    What they objected to was *who* was washing their feet.

    The question is what would the contemporary equivalent be?

    Foot washing is a striking image and a powerful reminder, but the gospel is more about living out the Kingdom.

    What would the everyday “footwashing” be?

    Comment by Ruth Wilkinson — March 30, 2010 @ 10:17 am

  2. I go to a quirky little church that specializes in half measures. I am there because God directly led me there and told me to stay put, even though I tried to bail twice. But I digress :)

    My church has a hand washing ceremony on Maundy Thursday evening. I assume it is because many people would balk at uncovering their feet (I know I would). As an ordained Elder I stand with the other 5 elders and the pastor at the altar and we have beautiful blue glass bowls on pedestals. The people come up in a line and place their hands in the warm water. As we wash their hands we pray for them silently. It is interesting and it is different enough to keep everyones attention and it stays within comfortable social boundaries (in America we are hand washing crazy at the moment). But I am not sure what is Biblical about it (apart from making us feel more intimate with each other than our normally staid service gernally allows)

    BTW *Your blog is always thought provoking…thank you for the dedication it takes each week. My own blog is still very active but only for those to whom I actually minister to and know personally. Still it is so rewarding.

    Comment by Cynthia — March 30, 2010 @ 10:09 pm

    • My church has a hand-shaking ceremony they do every Sunday.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — March 30, 2010 @ 10:44 pm

  3. […] a follow-up to yesterday’s piece here on foot washing.   Only this one, from last year, was a drive thru foot washing.    […]

    Pingback by “Out Like a Lamb” Link Day « Thinking Out Loud — March 31, 2010 @ 6:11 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Your Response (Value-Added Comments Only)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: