top of page

Maundy Thursday

When you are invited to a dinner party, how do you expect to be treated?  Well, you probably want to be warmly greeted at the door, welcomed with a refreshing beverage, given a seat at the table.  You’ll respond with absolutely impeccable manners, of course, on your very best behavior.  You won’t kick your shoes off under the table or rest your elbows on the tabletop or slurp your drink or gobble up your food.  You’ll compliment the host on the meal, and at the end of a pleasant evening, you’ll expect to depart with a promise to invite the host over to your home next time.  Because that’s how relationships are supposed to work: reciprocity.  There should be equal giving and receiving. 


Jesus, it turns out, is the worst kind of host for a polite dinner party.  The disciples show up with their expectations about how things are supposed to go at this possible Passover Seder meal—the Gospels don’t all agree that Jesus’s last meal with his disciples is a ritual Passover meal, and by the time Paul is writing his letters about believers and their faith rituals, Paul doesn’t mention the last supper as a Passover meal.  Which is fine: Passover rituals can belong to the Jewish faith; Christians can respect this without copying or modifying a sacred Jewish ritual. 


In any case, the disciples understand what family meals should look like, so they are probably expecting their leader, Jesus, to give them instructions about what comes next in their movement.  They know Jesus is upsetting people with his miracles.  They know there are angry leaders out there, ready to send Jesus to his death. 


And the disciples believe they are ready to die with Jesus; some of them even say so.  Jesus is hosting this dinner, and the disciples expect to repay his kindness by being there for him, and if he dies, well, they’ll assume leadership to keep the movement alive.  Isn’t this the way power is supposed to work? 


Instead of explaining to his disciples who should be in charge after he is gone, Jesus gets up from the table, strips off his outer robe, and ties a towel around his waist.  Like a common slave.  It is almost as though Jesus doesn’t understand power at all.  He doesn’t understand what it means to have a succession plan, he doesn’t even understand politeness as a dinner party host. 


In their culture, everyone would have known that hospitality demanded a basin of water to provide to guests when they arrive so they could wash their own feet as they enter the host’s home.  If anyone was going to wash the guests’ feet, they would be a slave, a servant.  No host would stoop down to wash the feet of their guests.  No free person would get on the floor to wash the feet of another free person.  This is scandalous behavior, practically rude. 


Peter declines this extravagant display of servitude, but Jesus refuses to let him get away with dirty feet.  Jesus tells him, “You don’t understand now, but you’ll get it later.”  And Jesus proceeds to get up in the business of every disciple, their private, shame-filled, calloused business, their warts, their cracked heels, the dirt caked under their toenails.  And he washes it all away.  And he does this dutifully, lovingly, for every single one of the disciples, even Judas, all while Jesus gives them one job: to love one another.  So much for a sophisticated succession plan.  This is the legacy Jesus wants to leave? 


Two thousand years later, we still can’t understand why Jesus washes feet.  We still have trouble serving one another; we’re barely able to love one another. 


You don’t need me to list all the ways we fall short of glory and hurt each other, all the reasons we should feel guilty and beg for forgiveness.  You don’t need a list of reasons why you should wash other people’s feet. 


But I have one question for you: when will Jesus wash your feet? 


To be a disciple of Jesus, having your feet washed is apparently not optional.  Every disciple at the table has their feet washed, whether they want it or not.  Sure, it’s embarrassing and humbling, but it is also world-changing and transformative. 


Jesus gets into our personal space.  He meets us where we are terribly vulnerable.  And Jesus honors what is sacred.  He does not exploit our weakness or laugh at us when we are nervous.  Jesus remains steadfast, teaching this powerful lesson about love by showing us exactly what love looks like: down on the ground, bowing before you, serving because this is the only way love is stronger than evil. 


Tonight, you will have the opportunity to have your own feet washed, as part of this worship on Maundy Thursday.  It isn’t often that we literally repeat Jesus’s words and actions in the same way he taught his disciples, but human wisdom has found no way to improve upon Christ’s action. 


You can decide for yourself if you are called to this experience or not.  A truly bold leader might chase you down as Jesus insisted upon washing the feet of his disciples.  But tonight you get to choose. 


The only thing I ask is that you respond to the invitation with honesty. 

For Christ’s sake, don’t lie. 

Don’t condescend to our Lord by refusing to have your feet washed out of modesty: “I don’t let anyone see my feet.” 

Don’t call it humility: “Oh, but my feet are so ugly.” 

Don’t call it embarrassment: “What if someone sees my unpolished toenails, or the fuzz between my toes that came from my socks?” 

Don’t tell Jesus you’re just too practical: “I can’t get my feet washed because I’m wearing pantyhose!” 

Don’t call it strength: “I can wash my own feet, thank you very much.” 

Don’t tell Jesus you’re too spiritual for such an action: “I’m already baptized!  Why do I need my feet washed too?” 

Don’t call it compassion: “My feet are so gross, and I love my neighbor too much to let them touch my feet.” 


If you’re going to refuse to let Jesus wash your feet, be honest with Jesus about the reason why.  And call it what it is: disobedience. 


Jesus came to serve you, and you didn’t let him because you were too ashamed.  Jesus came to heal, and you didn’t want to admit you need healing. 

Jesus came to teach, and you didn’t learn because you resent being told what to do, even by Jesus. 

Jesus came to feed you, and you denied that you were hungry. 

Jesus came to die, and you were busy trying to figure out which stuff of his you would get after he’s gone. 


Jesus comes to wash your feet, and now what will you do?  Maybe you weren’t prepared for this, but here you are.  And here is Jesus.  Pray for the grace to accept Christ’s extravagant love.  Pray for the grace to become obedient to Christ’s will. 


Maybe it’s time to get over yourself.  Maybe this isn’t about you at all.  Maybe this love really does begin and end with Jesus.  Maybe this really is Christ’s legacy.  When will Jesus wash your feet? 


Pastor Cheryl

[1] Adapted from a sermon I preached on Maundy Thursday, April 13, 2017.


82 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page