“The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:
This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.
Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.” (Exodus 12:1-14)
This is what Jesus and his disciples were celebrating when they had their shared meal, their Last Supper together. Since they were mostly probably single men, or at least away from their families this Passover season, they came together as a combined household/neighbors. I do not know whether they painted the doorposts and lintel of the house where they were – maybe the door frame to the upper room where they had their meal. Neither do I know whether the remains of the meal were burned. The New Testament – the gospel passage – does not tell us. Jesus and his disciples were far removed from the first Passover celebrated in Egypt. Also far removed from the Passovers in the desert. Generations removed from Passovers in the land that the Lord God gave them. And past history the years where kings ruled over Israel and Judah. What remnant remained of the Passover is recounted in the Gospel passage.
Paul, intentionally or not, started a new tradition – Communion. He recounts what Jesus did at the Last Supper, and for future generations sets a pattern of re-creating and reliving the Last Supper. For some faith traditions the Last Supper is celebrated yearly. For others, when the occasion seems right and proper for such celebrations. And still other faith traditions took on the celebration of the Last Supper as something done whenever the faithful are gathered.
“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
For Anabaptists another practice from the Last Supper was adopted and adapted. If some celebrations of Communion have been imbued with pomp, circumstance, ritual, tradition, and exclusivity – foot washing is just the opposite.
“Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1)
Humility and servanthood were the important characteristics of foot washing. That, and the desire to replicate what Jesus Christ modeled for his disciples.
“The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.” (Verses 2 – 4)
With Judas determined to do what he felt compelled to do, the events of the next few days were set in motion. All that was left was to prepare his disciples for those events, and bring them into closer communion to himself, Jesus.
“Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I 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, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” (Verses 5 – 11)
Jesus washed Judas’ feet. There is no other explanation possible. Jesus washed Judas’ feet and must have already forgiven Judas for what he will do in the near future. But note what Jesus said, that this foot washing is not absolution of sin. If one has lived such a life where thought and actions are pure and clean, one only needs to cleanse one’s self from the minor dirt of daily living.
“After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (Verses 12 – 17)
Anabaptists would wash each other’s feet to demonstrate that between fellow believers power and influence are not to be considered. All are equal; all equally need to have the dirt of everyday living washed away; it is as much a blessing to have someone wash your feet as it is to wash another’s feet. That is why footwashing is done in pairs; you wash each other’s feet.
I wonder, beloved reader, if Judas would have washed Jesus’ feet? Would Judas have washed the feet of the other disciples? And how much must Judas have been determined to betray his Lord if after having his Lord humbled before him – he still went out.
“When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.
Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’
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.” (31b – 35)
Tomorrow is Good Friday. For some periods of my life, Good Friday meant it was not a working day. Some years I attended a worship service. Some years I spent with family. For the past decade and a half I have written about Holy Week including Good Friday. In was already into my adult years when I discovered the traditions surrounding Maundy Thursday. It is good to keep learning about the seasons of the church year, and even better to practice them. As we come to the climax of Holy Week, may you think back on the traditions that were important to your Christian journey. And what has helped to form your faith beliefs. Shalom and Selah!