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The rest of the story

Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles by Meister des Hausbuches, 1475 (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

As has been my practice for many years, I attended the Maundy Thursday worship service tonight. It marks the beginning of the Easter Triduum–in my opinion, the three most important days of the year–recalling the passion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This service includes the washing of the feet, a particularly meaningful ritual for me. Even so, my first instinct is to balk at participating…until I think of Peter’s initial refusal to let Jesus wash his feet. In Jesus’ mind, it was critical that Peter allow this.

8… Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

As with Peter, I relent, taking my seat before the basin. And I wonder… Why did Jesus insist that Peter allow his feet to be washed? Why was this act so important?

The gospel reading this evening–fitting for Maundy Thursday–was from John 13. I love this story and I use it often as I teach on serving, when addressing the inevitable question, “Why are we supposed to serve others?”

“14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

Like all children, when mine were young they would pepper me with the question, “Why?” Sometimes, in an effort to expedite whatever I wanted accomplished or to nip an argument in the bud, my reply would simply be, “Because I said so, that’s why.” Similarly, John 13:14-15 is the quick answer to, “Why are we supposed to serve others?”

Tonight I hears something more. When Pastor Lee came to the end of the gospel reading that was listed in our bulletin, he kept reading…

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

As I sat down and offered my feet to be washed, I realized that there is indeed more to the story than I have shared when teaching. It is true that the reason we serve is because Jesus says we should, but that’s not the full answer. We serve others because in so doing, we are identified as disciples of Christ. It is the way we reflect His selfless love for all humankind.

I hesitate to have my feet washed because it is a humbling experience for me. I am far more comfortable washing someone else’s feet. I suspect Peter may have felt the same, which is why Jesus knew Peter–and I–needed to submit to having our feet washed before we could have any part with Jesus, before we would be truly ready to answer His call to serve others.

The next time I’m asked, “Why are we supposed to serve others?” I think I will avoid sharing the expeditious answer, and tell the whole story instead. Amen and amen!

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