A Hard Thing

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“So Jesus got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” John 13:4-5
The mere mention of this text raises our anxiety.
We are humbled and in awe at Jesus’s expression of servanthood. The story is unambiguous in meaning. Jesus takes on the role of a servant and offers a physical expression of his love, affection and commitment to his closest followers. He washes their feet.
And every fiber of our being screams out in unison, “Oh dear Lord. Don’t make us do this.”
No, I am not going to make you wash one another’s feet during our Maundy Thursday service. I’m not that daft—no one would show up. I am however, going to invite you to consider washing one another’s feet. There will be no mandate. But you will have the chance if the Spirit moves you.
Now. You can breathe again.
I understand. Truly, I do. Foot washing feels alien to us. It feels deeply personal. There is an intimacy that accompanies this ordinance that many of us find terrifying. We are all well-aware that our bare feet are mangled, gnarly, knobby and crusty. They smell. They are misshapen and hairy. For most of us, they represent the least appealing parts of our bodies. We don’t want others to see them, let alone touch them. And certainly, not wash them.
So, let’s just wash one another’s hands, right? Some churches choose to have their cake and eat it too. These churches’ pastors acknowledge the power of this passage and desperately want to be faithful to Christ’s command that we wash one another’s feet. But they clearly have no intention of actually doing so. Washing feet seems distasteful and not appropriate for worship. Hands, therefore, become a suitable alternative. It feels like a gentle and far less invasive experience of anointing.
Although I respect this move and understand the motives behind it (we pastors actually want people to attend our church’s services), I feel like it misses the mark. It’s supposed to be hard. That’s why Jesus commands us to do it.
We have good company in our adamant refusal to participate: Peter said to Jesus, “You will never wash my feet.” (John 13:8)
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:8)
So there. Unless Jesus models for his disciples what service to others looks like, they cannot be one with him. Solidarity with Christ hinges on our willingness to do the hard thing.
And washing feet is a hard thing, because it’s far more than just washing feet, of course.
It’s hard because we don’t want to make ourselves that vulnerable. We desire Christian fellowship with others, but we’re not keen on the accountability that fellowship demands. We want to be church, but we want it on our terms. We want to have a robust offering of services to our church and our community, but we’re not willing to actually do the work of service. We are, in truth, one collective mass of contradictions.
“Can’t we just wash one another’s hands?”

Jesus: “No.”
“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.” (John 13:14-15)
Maundy Thursday, during Holy Week, is a time set aside for us to remember Christ as he prepares to give his life for us at Calvary on Good Friday. The word Maundy comes from the Latin word Maundantum, which means commandment. It refers to Jesus’s instructions to his followers the night before he died.
Just on the heels (pun intended) of his foot washing, Jesus says: “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)
Jesus demonstrates firsthand what love looks like. God’s love for us in Jesus is about sacrifice and service, vulnerability and humility. And this love is no easy thing.
On Thursday night, March 29, we will remember in worship at 6:30 PM that Jesus asks us to do a hard thing—love. We will recall that final night he had with his disciples. We will remember that Jesus calls them his friends. We will share the Lord’s Supper together, and you will have the chance to observe and, or, participate in a foot washing experience. It’s a hard thing. I know. But I think you’re up to the challenge, First Baptist.
Besides, if we’re not willing to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters in Christ, then how in the world do we expect to do the other hard things that Jesus requires of us? If we can’t wash one another’s feet, how can we ever begin to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us?
It’s hard, this life of faith. But it’s the way of the cross. It’s the way of Jesus.
And he thinks we’re up to the challenge.