God of dirty feet and sticky fingers,
Of messy-broken and squeaky-clean,
With our words,
Help us bless.
With our hands,
Help us heal.
With our feet,
Help us walk in your ways.
Scripture reading: John 13:1-20; 31-35
Memory verse: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”—John 13:34-35
Through this example, Jesus taught his disciples to be servant leaders. This was a radical, upside down way of relating to others. The job of washing dirty, road-weary feet was usually done by servants in Jesus’ time.
Today, some people are uncomfortable having their feet washed in this ritual setting. But I think this is the point: it is meant to make us feel a bit squirmy. When we allow others to wash the most lowly part of our bodies—our feet—we are allowing them in; we are making ourselves vulnerable.
Washing each other’s feet is one way to show that we love one another. As Jesus’ disciples, we’re called to embody that love and to become servant-like, upside-down leaders.
Growing up, my church held a footwashing service on Good Friday: women in the basement, men upstairs. As a child watching my mom and other women, it seemed mysterious and quite intriguing. Big toes in wet nylon stockings, warm water basins, women shedding tears as they washed and dried each others’ feet. I could tell that there was something very special and holy about this ritual.
Some other churches that I’ve attended have adapted this ritual to include handwashing. At home with our own children, footwashing is a meaningful practice where young and old can demonstrate our love and desire to serve each other. It’s powerful to see my daughters watsh each other’s feet and repeat this question: Will you let me serve you?
Questions for reflection:
- How are you a servant leader?
- How does your family serve others in the community?
- Jesus surprised his disciples by washing their feet. When have you been helped or served by someone in an unusual way?
- What would it be like to wash your friends’ feet?
- Who are the people in your life who are servant leaders?
- Talk about ways that you can serve others with your words and actions.
Spiritual Practice: Footwashing
- Walk around outside in your bare feet, even if there is snow on the ground. Don’t be shy about getting feet cold and dirty!
- Gather around a basin of warm water and have a towel ready. Read the passage from John 13:1-20 as you take turns washing and drying each other’s feet. Some feet will be more ticklish than others!
Bless each other by sitting in a circle with feet touching: May you use your feet and hands in service to God and others. Amen.
Other Holy week family rituals we love:
- Christian Seder supper. This has become a meaningful part of our family’s Easter celebration. We imagine Jesus celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples. Some years we have blended footwashing into this celebration. Our family often celebrates the Seder supper on Maundy Thursday.
- Resurrection rolls. These are fun to make with young children who marvel at the melted marshmallow (the empty tomb). A great addition to an Easter breakfast!