The triumph of Easter is preceded by humility shown in foot-washing rituals on Maundy Thursday.
In many churches on Thursday, Christians will ponder Jesus’ final meal with his disciples before his Crucifixion. The Last Supper, as it is known, was a Passover celebration, remembering how God’s ancient Jewish people celebrated his faithful love in saving them from slavery in Egypt.
In the English-speaking world, this day is called Maundy Thursday. It comes from the Latin Mandatum novum do vobis, words Jesus spoke to his apostles: “A new mandate I give to you”—the command to love and serve one another.
On Passover night, the climax of the celebration usually revolves around an empty seat and the untouched cup of Elijah. At the Last Supper, though, there was a new action. Jesus took that cup and proclaimed it his blood. He then took off his robe—the one that will later be gambled over by those crucifying him — and knelt before his apostles. He then humbly washed their feet.
This extraordinary gesture will be reenacted throughout the world Thursday in sacraments and liturgies in Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and some Protestant churches. The pope even washes vagrants’ feet on the streets of Rome. (He recently communicated the dignity of divine nature in all God’s children by washing the feet of a young Muslim in a women’s prison.) Loving service is sacramental, part of the wonderfully unfurling drama of the redemption and exultation of all the Lord’s children.
When I arrived in Provo, Utah, last year for a time of ministry, I was looking forward to walking around stunning places, such as the Alpine Loop and Bridal Veil Falls of the Wasatch Front, and even more dramatic monuments in southern Utah. What a great prospect that was. The mountains looked wonderful, but my feet—though intent upon traveling with the gospel of peace—soon became anything but beautiful.