Whoever Receives: A Maundy Thursday Reflection from Ellen Sheehy of Episcopal City Mission

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. 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.
John 13:3-5 (New Revised Standard Version)

Here we are again…where did the 40 days of Lent go? A snow day here, a work deadline there, some tax preparation and a family visit, poof, Easter is upon us!  All those good intentions for giving up, taking on, praying, centering, deepening…and now it’s Maundy Thursday. Nothing new for me…seems like I always count on the Holy Triduum as a chance for a fast-track Lent.  Would it not be so, but this is a pattern…maybe next year, I’ll break it. But, for now, I cherish the last-gasp chance to prepare for Easter by walking with Jesus from the triumphal entrance into Jerusalem to the upper room for the Passover feast to the cross.

This year, I am focused on really imagining myself in that upper room with Jesus and the disciples. I am particularly thinking about Jesus’ humble act of washing the feet of the disciples.  This symbolic act — part of many Maundy Thursday services — makes me deeply uncomfortable and to be clear, I don’t participate…my feet are misshapen, surely there is lint between my toes, and to boot, my feet are super sensitive...and they may well be smelly, too! I squirm in the pew and try to become invisible until this part of the powerful Maundy Thursday service is done.

I get it. Jesus wants us to be humble servants and shows us by his example of literally washing the disciples’ feet…but I don’t need to bare my tootsies to understand what he is teaching, do I?  I understand the context of this ritual — the roads were dusty, they wore sandals. And, rather than being under a table and out of sight, their dirty feet were in full view as they reclined to eat. By performing an odious (and likely odoriferous) task reserved for the lowly, Jesus models servant behavior...but is that all there is to Jesus’ lesson? Is it only about service?

Peter was initially horrified at the idea that Jesus would wash his feet--he couldn’t imagine letting Jesus do that. "Peter said to him, 'You will never wash my feet.' Jesus answered, 'Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.'" (John 13:8 NRSV) Once again, Jesus turns the situation on its head...the consequence of refusing Jesus’ humble service is not simply dirty feet.  "'Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.'” (John 13:20 NRSV)

As we continue on our journey for justice, let us remain humble and remember our own human frailties and shortcomings and be open to both receive and spread God’s love every single day.