Tag Archives: Maundy Thursday

Maxie Dunnam ~ Serving Like Jesus

The cross is the symbol of Jesus’ most radical expression of submission and servanthood. At the center of Good Friday was Jesus’ “obedience unto death—even on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). This cross-shaped attitude is a pattern for us to implement and imitate.

By opening ourselves to the shaping power of the indwelling Christ, we grow into the likeness of Christ. Serving is one of the most important disciplines because we act our way into Christ-likeness.

The Cross Style of Submission and Serving

Jesus’ way was the way of the cross, and this was essential to his ministry. He chose the way of humiliation. He “emptied himself,” refusing to hang on to the glory that was his with the Father. He reversed all notions of greatness and power. He became weak that we may be strong, poor that we may be rich. And he chose obedient submission even to death on the cross (Philippians 2:5-11).

So, his was a cross-way of life, which made his teaching the most revolutionary in history. His call was to a cross-way of life. “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me'”(Mark 8:34).

He minced no words: “He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.'”(Mark 9:35).

Perhaps the most dramatic witness of this cross style was his action at the last supper with his disciples in the upper room. No one was around to perform that common act of a servant when persons came in off the hot dusty roads, that is, washing feet. This was a borrowed room; thus there was no servant or head of the house or anyone to see that the menial task was performed. Jesus provided the unforgettable picture of submission, of the cross style, by washing the disciples’ feet.

Lest the ongoing meaning of this be lost in the bafflement of what was happening, Jesus made it clear. After washing their feet and taking up his garments again, he sat down, explained to them what he had done and why he had done it, and plotted their course as his disciples: “You call me ‘Master’ and ‘Lord’, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Then if I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example: you are to do as I have done for you” (John 13:12-15, NEB).

Servants After the Style of Jesus

It is clear as we read the New Testament that serving is the most distinctive quality of Jesus’ style of ministry. And Jesus leaves little doubt that it is the style to which he calls us: “The disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master” (Matthew 10:24).

“Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:26-28).

Not only does Jesus call us to this style, he gives life through this style: “those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

It is clear. The style to which we are called is that of serving:

But not many of us want to be servants, do we? Also, there is a vast difference between the way most of us serve and Jesus’ call to be a servant. The way most of us serve keeps us in control. We choose whom, when, where, and how we will serve. We stay in charge. Jesus is calling for something else. He is calling us to be servants. When we make this choice, we give up the right to be in charge. The amazing thing is that when we make this choice we experience great freedom. We become available and vulnerable, and we lose our fear of being stepped on, or manipulated, or taken advantage of. Are not these our basic fears? We do not want to be in a position of weakness (Dunnam, Alive in Christ, 150).

Here is the conflict. Even though we make the decision to serve, undisciplined as we are, we continue to choose when, where, whom, and how we will serve. Thus we continually run the risk of pride, and we are always vulnerable to a “good works” mentality that sends us frantically to engage ourselves in whatever deeds of mercy we can devise. How do we deal with these snares?

Guarding Against Pride and a “Good Works” Mentality

Thomas Merton reminds us that,

he who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means. (“Contemplation in a World of Action,” 178-79).

If we think we know others and their needs perfectly well, our serving will often hinder rather than help. To combat pride, we must be attentive to the other – a form of submission. We must be patient, intent on serving the genuine needs of the other, rather than serving our own need to serve. In this fashion we will diminish the possibility of being on our own. We will be open to the Spirit to guide us in discerning need and in making appropriate responses to need.

Given a decision to serve, we think we must immediately spring into action. We must guard against two pitfalls. Our desire to serve may be poisoned by a desire to please. Also, there is the snare of turning our servant action into controlling power over another.

One antidote for a “good works” mentality is an ongoing sensitivity to our own unworthiness. The Bible’s witness is clear. Awareness of a calling to service is accompanied by a sense of personal unworthiness. A “good works” mentality is also dissolved by keeping alive the conviction that our salvation depends upon God’s grace, not our performance. A third antidote to a “good works” mentality is an ongoing awareness that our serving is not redemptive within itself. Our serving provides the environment, sets the stage, and releases the energy for the person we are serving to be genuinely helped, even healed.

Now we return to the central issue. We discipline ourselves in serving, deliberately acting as servants because we are servants of Christ. Thus our choosing to serve elicits no false pride.

In a disciplined way we choose and decide to serve here or there, this person or that person, now or tomorrow, until we take the form of a servant and our lives become spontaneous expressions of the cross style.

As we practice the disciplines of submission and serving, we are freed from the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way, and we find the freedom to value and serve others. The primary purpose of these two disciplines, like all spiritual disciplines, is to cultivate the mind of Christ in us. We act our way into Christ-likeness.

Cole Bodkin ~ A Maundy Thursday Covenant

In his latest book, The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement, Michael Gorman argues that the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ atonement was to “create a transformed people, a (new) people living out a (new) covenant relationship with God together. Moreover, this people will not simply believe in the atonement and the one who died, they will eat and drink it, they will be baptized into it/ him, they will be drawn to him and into it. That is, they will so identify with the crucified savior that words like “embrace” and “participation,” more than “belief” or even “acceptance,” best describe the proper response to this death.”

Certainly the Last Supper is of great import when we reflect upon the Lord’s death and its significance for his disciples. For many, Maundy Thursday might be one of the few times that they will partake in the Lord’s Supper. So it might be worth more reflection, before we “do this in remembrance” of Jesus.

Intriguingly, it is only in this scene where we find the word “covenant” coming from the mouth of Jesus. While most of us are eager to gravitate towards high-volume words, this is an instance where less is more, and it deserves much more attention.

While this word “covenant” tends to grab our attention, especially with the idea of it being a (re)new(ed) covenant (Luke 22:20; see Jeremiah 31:34), I was recently made aware of something extremely significant preceding it, for which the word covenant is describing, namely, the “blood” of the covenant (Mark 14:24 and parallels).

We may suppose that this has something to do with the Passover meal, since, after all, the Evangelists introduce us to this meal by mentioning that it took place during Passover. But as Paul Penley states, “[t]he Bible never calls the blood of the Passover lambs in Egypt the “blood of the covenant.” The “blood of the covenant” first comes from the oxen sacrificed in Sinai mentioned in Exodus 24. The only other reference to “blood of the covenant” in the Bible refers to the sacrificed body of Jesus. That connection must not be missed” (Reenacting the Way (of Jesus), p. 196). After doing this, they have a meal (Exodus 24:11).

What is the significance? Well, before Moses sprinkles the blood of the covenant on the people, the people commit themselves (twice!) to do something: “all that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” (Exodus 24:3, 7). So if this happens to be the background, what sort of implications would this entail for those of us who partake of the Lord’s Supper today? Penley explains,

The “blood of the covenant” doesn’t just signify God’s willingness to accept a sacrifice as payment for human sin. It signifies a two-way commitment. God will reach out and over the sins of many, but those whom he reaches have a major responsibility. The responsibility is obedience. God’s ways become your way of life if you want God’s sacrifice to become your forgiveness (197).

Newsflash: that’s how covenants work! A covenant between parties is a two-way street. We aren’t mere recipients of Jesus’ salvific act. We aren’t coming to the table just to “remember,” and proclaim a big hearty “thank you.” We are called to obedience, to be faithful to the covenant in which we have been inaugurated. We are eating and drinking the atonement. We are being baptized into it. We are committing ourselves to the baptismal life, the-dying-and-rising-to-Christ life.

Some may feel suspicious towards this “background” info. Check out the discussion of the old and new covenant in Hebrews 9 where we find the author arguing “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works in order to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). Paul, likewise, states that “[Christ] died on behalf of all in order that those who continue living might no longer live for themselves, but for the one who died on their behalf and was raised (2 Corinthians 5:15).” He died for us, we die daily for Him.

Do we realize that when we take the bread and wine we are committing ourselves to faithfulness to God?

Penley suggests we help set the stage for the seriousness of the Lord’s Supper by responding in unison to the biblical reading: “all the words which we have spoken, we will do.” Another practical suggestion is:

reading out loud a portion of Jesus’ teaching each time communion is taken. Take a section of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and read it out loud. Or take a section of Jesus’ teaching on the topic being discussed or taught that day. This way participants can specifically consider the commands in the covenant to which they are committing— to which they are declaring in action, “all the words which you have spoken we will do” (210).

This also should make us consider the Commission the Lord gave us, especially the “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” We are making disciples who are agreeing to enter into the new covenant. We are inviting them to partake and commune with the Lord of the new covenant. Thus, we must ask ourselves: if we are making disciples of the new covenant, then ought it be best to know and do all that he commanded us to do?

Thank God for the mercy of this Lord, and the forgiveness he has offered, and the prayer that he has taught us to pray. Nevertheless, when we approach his Table, let us remember and do all that he has taught us, and enabled us to do through the power of his Spirit.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Humility. Unity. Worship.

There I was, punching couch cushions, trying to keep my sudden, violent shouts muted so I wouldn’t wake up the kids.

If you watched the University of Kentucky vs. Notre Dame college basketball game Saturday night, you know what I’m talking about: a nail-biter, an epic battle. “This is why we love sports,” a headline blazed the following morning.

In the aftermath of the win (in Kentucky, a win really does leave an aftermath), a story popped up online showing an entirely different angle to the triumphant chest bumps and crazed leaps of players suddenly realizing they’re headed to the Final Four.

For a moment I thought I’d dozed off in front of my Facebook feed which, full of UK fans and friends in ministry, has been overflowing with a steady stream of Kentucky blue and Holy Week imagery punctuated with chipper pastors subtly posting service times in bold alongside inspiring photos on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings.

Men kneeling in front of others, washing their feet. The Pope? No, that’s not the Pope. Friend’s promotion for Maundy Thursday service? Religious icon?

Or a team of basketball players?

Kentucky residents would’ve seen this clip last August (there’s nothing about the Wildcats that goes uncovered in the Bluegrass).

“Well, no wonder they play so well together,” I thought after first seeing the video over the weekend. “They washed feet together. And shared humility always brings unity.”

This thought came unbidden as if it were an overfamiliar bumper sticker. What?

Shared humility always brings unity.

Pictures emerged from my mind: the close bond I’d built with fellow students on a mission trip where we, yes, served others.

Believers gathered in an upper room, praying, waiting together in humility for the Holy Spirit.

The Book of Acts: disciples beaten, thrown in jail together; as much as we dwell on the early conflicts of the early church, consider this: the thousands of miles of road traveled, the uncomfortable nights, the stressful circumstances. When’s the last time you traveled with someone else for months? Years? Travel brings out the hidden depths of the human soul like no other experience: hotel clerks recognize the despair in an exhausted parent’s eyes after driving for hours with small children. Peaceful partnerships descend into irrational, chaotic fights in which unfoldable maps are bandied like awkward paper weapons. “See how they love each other”? While traveling?

“Ah,” you counter, “but they had the Holy Spirit. They were anointed.

“Yes,” I would counter, “but they were also human beings, not the Incarnate Christ,” as several stories from Acts will bear me out.

Yes, they had the blessing of the Holy Spirit at work. But it would seem that one of the Holy Spirit’s favorite ways to work is by doing remarkable things through shared humility. And by birthing unity through Spirit-infused shared humility.

When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he set them an example: this is who I am, this is what I do. Now, go and do likewise. What they couldn’t anticipate was the real-world result that washing feet together yields.

Have a conflict in your church? Don’t just schedule a service in which people on one side of the argument are “serendipitously” paired to wash the feet of the people on the other side (although I still recommend just that). Send them all out to wash feet together.

There’s another way that shared humility brings unity. Consider worship, and what it is. Whether you picture a church service or crowds gathered around a royal palace, note that first and foremost, before anything else is done, worship is shared humility. How can it not be? You’re gathered with your peers to publicly announce, through kneeling for prayers, or singing words, that you all depend on God alone; that God alone is worth worship, and that you are not. To worship is to humble yourself. To worship together is to humble yourselves together. Humbling yourselves together is shared humility. Shared humility brings unity.

As we move towards Maundy Thursday this Holy Week, let me ask: whose feet do you need to wash? Who has given you a headache recently, caused you pain? And with whom do you need to go and wash feet, sharing humility side by side?

Recently my family was invited into the home of some international students. They treated us like honored guests, cooking and serving because, as one of them said, “you take care of us, so it’s only right that we take care of you sometimes.” While there, one of them matter of factly commented on the habit of a couple locals who would deliberately rev their vehicles and buzz the students while they were mid-crosswalk, crossing the street.

The international black students.

One student had a bottle of urine thrown on them from a moving truck window.

I have never dealt with sexism with the grace that my black friends consistently deal with racism.

One pastor with whom I recently attended a conference led a peaceful march a couple of months ago. Some townspeople wore miniature white Klan masks and put fried chicken and watermelon in the middle of the road on which the marchers approached. What was the response of the marchers? To switch the focus onto the number of people who had offered lemonade or refreshment to the peaceful protesters.

What if the media were flooded by images of local police departments kneeling down, one by one, and washing citizens’ feet? What if the media were flooded by images of community leaders kneeling down, one by one, washing officers’ feet? What if the media were flooded by images of police departments and NAACP members traveling together to build concrete block houses for Proyecto Abrigo in Juarez, Mexico? What if the media were flooded by images of rival politicians walking into each others’ offices to wash each others’ feet?

Alright, I may get carried away a little.

Except I’m not carried away. Even DC politicians – of both parties – are not beyond the Spirit-charged grace that comes with shared humility. 

This is what the Gospel is: unlikely candidates for sainthood lined up to shock their bodies with a subservient physical posture. Unlikely candidates for sainthood lined up, minds paralyzed with the reality that someone is touching their feet.

“Do bad guys like to sing about Jesus?” This is the kind of question I field from my five-year-old son during bath time. I’d been singing a song from their “Little Blessings” choir to keep the music in the kiddos’ minds. As I got ready to wash my little boy’s feet, I told him about Saul, a bad guy who did not sing about Jesus, meeting Jesus on the road and loving to sing about Jesus afterwards – so much that his name changed and later when he was singing about Jesus a prison broke open.

Bad guys have been a theme for my little guy lately, who every night prays, “Dear God, thank you for everybody and everything except bad guys.” No matter how much we tell him bad guys need prayer, no matter how much we pray for bad guys, he has staunchly resisted.

Oh, little guy. Let’s wash the bad guys’ feet.

Who knows. Maybe someday Duke players will wash Kentucky players’ feet.

Hey, a girl can dream, right?

Ken Loyer ~ The Forgotten Command of Jesus

Sometimes I wonder why foot washing is not practiced more widely in the church today.

Certainly, I understand concerns about it being a bit too personal and potentially awkward—touching someone else’s feet, or having someone else touch your own feet. Our feet tend not to be the most flattering parts of our bodies, in terms of aroma as well as overall aesthetics. Why would I want anyone else to touch my dirty, smelly feet, which hardly see the light of day? Yet not only is there strong historical precedent for this practice among God’s people, but, even more, it is also something that Jesus commands his followers to do. Is foot washing, by and large, the forgotten command of Jesus?

It is, in fact, a clear command of Jesus. After he washed his disciples’ feet, the Lord said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 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. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:12-17).

The times I’ve participated in worship services with foot washing, I have been blessed by the experience. They have been among the most meaningful worship experiences that I’ve ever had. Still, I can identify with Peter, who wanted to excuse himself from foot washing on the night of the Last Supper. He was reluctant to have Jesus wash his feet, and he would have been more comfortable not participating, that is, until he learned what it was truly about. On that fateful night, Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe (thus revealing his true identity—his heart—as the Lord who serves and gives of himself for others), and tied a towel around himself. As St. John tells us, “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. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’” (13:5-9)

The traditional time to observe foot washing in worship, Maundy Thursday, is coming up once again. Especially this time of year, pastors and lay people alike would do well to remember and heed the words of Jesus about this practice: “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

Featured art is “Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples,” Tintoretto.