On Maundy Thursday, many churches celebrate the evening that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. In performing this strange and surprising act, Jesus had the dual intention of setting an example to be imitated and doing something unique and non-repeatable. The first aim is easier to discern: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you,” he says. Jesus’ prescribed path of discipleship was not the path of self-aggrandizement but of humble service. For this reason, we rightly look back at the foot washing as Jesus’ modeling of humble service.
At the same time, there is something unusual and unique going on here. This is apparent from the fact that this foot washing has all the traits of an ordination: just as Aaron and his successors in the priesthood would have to be cleansed with water before undertaking their sacred tasks (Exodus 29:4; 30:17–21; 40:12; Leviticus 8:6), so too was it the case with Jesus’ disciples. Even in Jesus’ day, if we believe the rabbinic sources, a priest would not have been allowed to minister without washing his feet. Foot washing was prerequisite to priestly service. This suggests that in washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus’ is preparing to usher them into a holy space.
There is an oft-quoted sentence from C. S. Lewis’s The Weight of Glory: “There are no ordinary people.” And of course because of Jesus’ love for the world exhibited by the foot washing, that’s true. But here’s something else to keep in mind in light of Maundy Thursday. When Jesus symbolically ordains his disciples through the foot washing, he is essentially saying—in Lewis’s parlance—that henceforth for the disciples there would be no more ordinary human actions. Indeed, from that moment on, once the Twelve understood the full import of Jesus’ act, they would naturally come to regard their lives as an act of continuous worship. They were, after all, no longer merely fishermen, tax collectors, and the like. They were fellow members in a new priesthood. Going forward, all their actions in Christ would be holy actions, seamlessly integrated into a life of worship.
Integrating our lives of faith is a journey that invariably requires our walking alongside those who are more seasoned than us. Alumni are constantly sharing with me how their years spent at Trinity were a significant leg in their journey of faith. When you get right down to it, one of the reasons they say this is because there’s a lot of foot washing that goes on around here—in both senses that Jesus intended.
This Maundy Thursday, I want to pray a prayer of thanks for Trinity staff—from the groundskeepers to the librarians—who serve the rest of the community so selflessly, day in and day out. I also give thanks for our Trinity faculty. Through their instruction, inside and outside the formal classroom, they have empowered students to integrate their faith with their education, their ministry, their vocation, their relationships, and their profession—just to name a few spheres of life. Faculty and staff together have washed the feet of Jesus’ disciples. They don’t do it for the “big bucks” or for the glory which our Tik-Tok-ized society accords academic training. They do it because they have been called by the one who has washed all our feet.