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Footwashing

April 14, 2006

We gathered for a Maundy Thursday service last evening. Several things struck me as we washed each other’s feet. This profound act of humility and servanthood is a great leveler. We are all equals in the school of Christ as we stoop to serve with towel and basin. The social dimensions of church can still allow for expressions of exclusiveness. Cliqueishness. Clannishness.

How is that avoided in footwashing? We move toward the room that has been prepared. Some seek out a specific person. Many just move toward the room and look for another who is ready and move together toward the chair and basin. It is not power interests or social compatibility that groups us. It is not age, nor tax bracket. It is not race, nor education. Rather, it is just the invitation of Jesus to follow his example.

Children were a part of the footwashing service. This is another profound dimension of the materiality of the Christian life. Love is demonstrated in real ways in the real world we live in. It takes the form of a basin full of water. My hands supporting a real foot. My cupped hand scooping water to pour on the foot. It is not primarily about abstract, esoteric ideas, but rather simple acts of service and love. Children can enter in and participate as the adult models what to do…mentoring in humble servanthood. So love and servanthood are not abstract Christian ideals, they are demonstrated in real ways in the real world of enemies, pride, jealousy and conflicted relationships.

I believe that as long as Christians practice footwashing there is hope of overcoming the cultural currents of individualism that seep into the church and are so prevelant. As we wash each other’s feet, we demonstrate the very personal way in which we are together the body of Christ. Being the church is about being a servant to one another.

On another note…our SMC website has reached the big time! The Google webcrawler has finally discovered our website so that people can google us. The first link that comes up on the search is an early experiment with a website. It is impossible to remove that site.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    April 15, 2006 7:09 pm

    Would you say that footwashing is mandated by Jesus in the same way communion is mandated?

  2. Brian Miller permalink
    April 16, 2006 6:21 pm

    I would not say this. First of all we only read the footwashing account in the Gospel of John. We see nothing about it in Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, the epistles or in early church history. This is not to say that it is wrong to literally practice footwashing. The Anabaptists and other Protestant movements have continued the practice of literal footwashing. Perhaps, another fair reading of Scripture would be that Jesus was demonstrating a posture of humility and servanthood that can be expressed in many ways…beyond a basin of water and towel (which has less significance in our context because of less people walking in sandals on open dusty roads).

    I would say that what Jesus was doing with the bread and the cup is quite significant in light of the clear covenantal connections. All the Gospels give witness to Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist. Other New Testament epistles give extended instruction on meal that Jesus gave his followers. Particularly in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth do we see how the Lord’s Supper was a central aspect of the early church’s worship (also–Acts, Hebrews, Revelation…). The centrality of the Lord’s Supper in the early church and throughout Christian history reveals an understanding of the importance of communion that we do not see matched by the literal practice of footwashing in the gathered community.

    Those are just a few of my thoughts. What is your perspective?

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