What Washing Feet Really Symbolizes
Feet washing tradition
In our Anabaptist tradition, we celebrate Communion and also wash feet. This is because Jesus instituted this at the Lord’s Supper in the upper room with His disciples.
As a child, I couldn’t understand what the purpose was of this “tradition”. I spent years as an observer in the pew while my mother and others moved forward in a line to the front of the church to wash feet with each other.
In the times of Christ, most people walked everywhere they went. Their feet became dirty and marked by the sand and dust. A good host offered water when guests arrived at his home so they could wash their feet. This was a way to show hospitality to his guests.
One day as Jesus was sitting at the house of Simon, a Pharisee, Mary entered in and washed Jesus feet with her tears, then poured expensive perfume on them. Others were aghast at the waste of the expensive perfume, but Jesus rebuked those who murmured. He especially rebuked Simon, who failed to show hospitality to Jesus when he did not offer any water to wash his feet.
When Jesus washed the feet of His disciples that night, He showed them what it means to love and to forgive others, even those who would soon deny or betray Him. He was willing to continue to be their servant.
What it means to wash feet today
A few weeks ago, I stopped at the grocery to pick up a bunch of dark grapes to use in our communion service. We didn’t need the grapes, but they are a lovely addition to our communion table.
Because I’d been on the road for almost two hours, I was ready to pick up my grapes and head home. I had things to do, places to go, and people to see.
Even though the store was nearly empty of shoppers, it seemed by the time I got to the check-out lane, every shopper was there, checking out. The problem was there were only four lanes. I picked the shortest express lane and lined up at the back. I counted the people in front of me. Four.
The sigh on my lips was stifled when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the Lord – the one Whose death I was going to remember that evening at Communion.
“Those grapes won’t mean anything tonight in the service if you cannot wash the feet of the people in front of you and the clerk who is trying hard to get customers through the line,” He whispered.
So I waited. When it was my turn, I realized I waited all of eight minutes for him to check out four people. Not a bad wait, I thought. Two minutes per person.
Before washing feet
At the end of our communion service, one of our elders spoke, introducing our feet washing service.
“Washing feet with others means nothing if I can’t give up the parking space that was mine – but somebody else took. It means nothing when I become impatient with the driver who is going under the speed limit when he could go faster.”
And, I thought to myself, it means nothing if I’m impatient with the clerk in the checkout lane, instead of showing patience.
I looked at the grapes on the table in front of me and was grateful for the nudge of the Holy Spirit that evening. The dark color cascading next to the broken bread was beautiful because I experienced what it truly meant to wash feet in the checkout line at the grocery just a few hours earlier.
Washing feet shows hospitality and service. We do all those things when we give up a parking space, follow a slow driver without losing patience, or wait without grumbling in a checkout lane.
Whose feet have you washed today?