Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday: Passover Seder, Communion and Footwashing

Tonight I attended my first "Christianized" Passover Seder. We went through the Seder and learned the spiritual significance of each step which, for Christians, culminates in Christ. The fourth cup was our Communion. What followed after would be new for many Christians. Footwashing.
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, do you wash my feet?" Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand." Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you." For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, "Not all of you are clean." When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. (John 13:3-15 ESV)
In the Church of God (Anderson) we participate in footwashing (or feetwashing, or foot washing or feet washing, however a person may say it or type it). Typically we only do it once a year during Holy Week before Resurrection Sunday. The men and women separate and each gender goes to a circular set of chairs. We remove our shoes and socks and one person kneels before another with a shallow basin of water. We pour water over each foot (one at a time) and then dry them with a towel. What often follows is a hug and a, "God bless you."

Historically we have taught that footwashing symbolizes servanthood and humility, two vital virtues in the Kingdom of God and Church. Some years ago the late Dr. Gilbert Stafford of Anderson University School of Theology postulated that the washing of feet symbolized the forgiveness of our post-baptismal sins. (Just a symbol, like baptism: in the Church of God we do not teach that physical water can wash away sins.)

When all feet are washed we typically sing some songs, pray and testify to the Lord's goodness. God's Holy Spirit moves during footwashing in a unique way; yes, it can still feel awkward to bow before another and wash his feet in this present society but it is a moving experience. Christians leave feeling that they've "been to church."