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Clean Feet: A Maundy Thursday Meditation on John 13:1-7

April 18, 2011

By Alyce McKenzie

Lectionary Reflections
John 13:1-7
Maundy Thursday

The book of John is a swinging pendulum. From up ("In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God") to down ("He came to his people but his own did not receive him"). Now it's time to go back. "Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father" (13:1).

If you knew you were going to die in under a week, wouldn't you prioritize and take care of the really important things? In John's Gospel, that means, for Jesus, taking time to wash his disciples' feet.

In the 1990s, I belonged to a church where they decided to hold a foot washing one year as part of the Maundy Thursday service. It was the first one they had ever tried, and, to my knowledge, the last. The pastor had the secretary call down the list of Administrative Board members trying to get twelve people to agree to sit in a row up front that night and let the pastor wash their feet. She got turned down six times. She got discouraged and ended up settling for half a dozen pair of feet up front instead of twelve.

That evening, as the sun set and the moon rose gleaming through the stained glass scene of Jesus in the Garden behind the altar, there they sat up front, in a line of folding chairs facing the rest of us, with their shoes neatly lined up next to each of their chairs like little soldiers. There was Joyce up there on the end seat. She had had a pedicure just for the occasion. I could see her bright coral nail polish blinking from my seat. I could see Ralph's "gold toe" socks neatly folded on top of his newly polished wing tip shoes. I could smell a hint of Febreeze that Denise must have sprayed in her shoes just before she left home. We in the congregation got to watch while the pastor washed the six best smelling pairs of feet in the entire town. In my fond memories of that evening I think of it as the "Demo Footwashing."

John's alone of the gospels has the footwashing. Why? Well, as John's Jesus explains, it is to set an example for us of service to others.

Read the rest of this article at Patheos here.


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