Maundy Thursday’s Humble Act of Servanthood

Maundy Thursday:  it’s such a strange name and has so many associations with it. 
There are several themes weaving throughout our passage from the Gospel of John that come to mind each year when we celebrate this third day before Easter:

I always think of the Last Supper, that we commemorate with our Holy Eucharist tonight.

The foot washing I associate with Christ’s unique servant-hood.
I contemplate the confusion and helplessness of the disciples who have seen Judas betray their master and hear Him speak of leaving them. 
There’s also the theme of cleanliness that represents that for which we are to attain in our hearts to be in fellowship with Christ.    

Tonight I chose the theme of “servant hood” that is exemplified by our Lord’s act of washing his disciples’ feet.  Although John reports Jesus as having said many important things to his disciples in our passage, our Lord also acted out what he understood as being Godly love.  He intended to show his followers what is expected of them if they are to believe in him, in his divinity, in his resurrection.  Jesus put himself above no one, in this act of hospitality, he claimed the same role as the lowliest household servant who’s job it was to wash the master’s and any visitor’s feet – a position of humility.

Today we live in a visual world, we live by our TVs, I-phones, Computers, movies, videos, skype, video games, etc., where we can view the world in an instant and see what is happening across the continents or next door.  The old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” seems exceedingly true.  What Jesus said to his disciples was very important, but demonstrating his servant-hood by washing their feet was even more impressive.  It was an action, a picture of his true nature, that captured the essence of his being.

While it is well and good to profess belief in and allegiance to Jesus our Savior, we are called to also show our faith in our actions, “walk the talk,” so to speak.  If we don’t, we are really no different from those hypocrites like the Pharisees. We are called to be servant ministers, to tend to one another and to serve our Lord, not just profess our faith with our lips. 

I have found through the years that it is by giving service, not just “good works” as St. Paul reminds us, but in truly giving to others, serving others with love in my heart, that has brought the joy of Christ in my life.  Jesus has given us the example of servant ministry, of Christian love by his tending to the cleansing of his disciples’ clay-covered feet.  It is an act of humility and one of spiritual cleansing, for we all betray our Lord at times, like Peter was about to do, needing to be washed clean.

Detail of "Jesus washing Peter's feet" by Ford Madox Brown 1852-56

Tonight, as we participate in or watch the foot washing, think about your role as a servant for Christ, a time when you have tended to, given to, or humbled yourself before the Lord.  As we share in the Holy Communion with the Body and Blood of our Lord who gave his life for us, think about how we might give of ourselves, help those who are our neighbors, whoever they may be. 

When we silently strip the altar in preparation for the remembrance of the day our Lord was crucified, think of the incredible gift we have been given by this servant Savior.

As we leave in silence tonight, may we take with us the mental picture of our Lord Jesus kneeling down before his disciples, humbly and tenderly washing their feet in an act of goodness that is life-giving in a world that is filled with dust that clouds our minds and hearts.  It is a gesture of sharing himself, an act of intimacy that unites one with God through our Savior’s sacramental love. 

We can leave assured our Lord is present to us,
ready to wipe our hearts clean
as he was to wash the feet of those who followed him.  Amen.

The Rev. Carol Sims
Church of the Epiphany, Norfolk, VA

Maundy Thursday, April 21, 2011
John 13:1-15



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