A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
– John 13:34
Maundy Thursday gets its name from the Latin mandatum novarum (“a new commandment” – John 13:34). A primary part of Maundy Thursday is to celebrate the giving of the new commandment to love one another, given in the context of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. A central portion of this narrative is found in John 13 where Jesus prepares for His impending death by gathering His disciples in an upper room. There we are told that He performed the action of the household servant by washing the feet of His twelve disciples (John 13:1-17).
Part of celebrating Maundy Thursday is to renew the covenant between God and His people, as we are made ready for His death and resurrection (Good Friday). The ancient tradition is to begin with offering prayers and confession and the reading of the Gospel text followed by the washing of one another’s feet. Foot washing is two-fold in its symbolism.
First, it is a reminder that as filthy as our feet may be, they are nothing compared to the filthiness of our hearts. As humbling as it may be to have someone wash our feet, we are to reflect on what it means to have Christ wash our whole bodies from the inside out with His true act of service on the Cross.
Second, foot washing also reminds us that just as Christ served us, we are to serve each other. The symbolism of foot washing is rich, and the hope is that through this experience we will focus our hearts to become true servants to one another.
A central feature of Maundy Thursday also involves reconciliation. This means we go before God, asking Him to help us forgive those who have hurt us and for God to use us as servants to love them in return. The point is that we must “wash the feet” of others by forgiving and serving them.
Maundy Thursday is not only an evening for washing feet, but it is also the occasion for taking the Lord’s Supper, since it was initiated on that evening before Good Friday (Luke 22:14-23). So the two questions we should ask on this Maundy Thursday: Where do I need to extend forgiveness? Whom is God calling me to serve?
Prayer: Almighty God, may we remember the night before your own dear son suffered on the cross, he postured himself as a humble servant. What a reminder as we witness the continual self-sacrifice of others as a part of the New. May my life be marked by sacrificial service for others. Amen.