Maundy Thursday

Foot-washing is a special, optional feature of the Maundy Thursday service. It exists in all the major churches, though many lay people aren’t aware of that. It is practiced, though infrequently, in eastern Orthodox churches, Anglican churches, Roman Catholic churches, and all major Protestant denominations.

In John’s gospel, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet during the Last Supper, but before the part that has become our Communion service. So foot-washing is appropriate for the Maundy Thursday service

The dusty and dirty conditions of the region necessitated the need for foot-washing. Although the disciples most likely would have been happy to wash Jesus' feet, they could not conceive of washing each other's feet. This was because in the society of the time foot-washing was reserved for the lowliest of menial servants. Peers did not wash one another's feet, except very rarely and as a mark of great love. Luke points out (22:24) that they were arguing about who was the greatest of them, so that none was willing to stoop to wash feet. When Jesus moved to wash their feet (see also John 13:1-16), they were shocked. His actions serve also as symbolic of spiritual cleansing (vs. 6-9) and a model of Christian humility (vs. 12-17).

The foot-washing was an example, a pattern, it emphasizes inner humility. A Christian widow's practice of "washing the feet of the saints" (I Timothy 5:10) speaks of her humble slave-like service to other believers. Not to follow the example of Jesus is to exalt oneself above Him and to live in pride. “No servant is greater than his master” (cf. John 12:26).

Following the custom of the time, Jesus and the disciples would have had their feet washed by a servant when they entered the Upper Room, so it wasn’t necessary to wash them again for the purpose of comfort or cleanliness. Jesus’ foot-washing was not to clean their feet but to make a point about humble service. At the Last Supper, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, but the disciples did not wash each other’s feet nor did anyone wash Jesus’ feet.

Incidentally, the garment Jesus took off to wash their feet and put back on afterwards was a himation, a rectangular piece of cloth that was worn something like an Indian sari.

May we remember why Jesus did this. Through this action Jesus taught the lesson of selfless service that was supremely exemplified by His death on the cross.


Carrie said...

Wonderful, informative post!

Mary said...


A wonderful post filled with so much information. Thanks for sharing.