Excerpted from the NC Council of Churches Lenten Guide, “Love One Another: Reflections on Race, Power, and Privilege”
Maundy Thursday — John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 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. 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!”
Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.”
For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he 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.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 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.”
I sat, my oils and powder mixture by her feet. Pulling one foot out at a time, our spirits huddled in the living room where we were praying and talking about race and power dynamics. It was late at night, around the hour that Jesus perhaps sat with his disciples for the last supper. Here, I was washing her feet, delighted to serve this woman who was so generous to the community, and who welcomed me to her table of love. As I am massaging each vein, I hear the others discuss “Black lives matter.” In my head I repeat this phrase, and listen intently to my spirit wanting to serve hers, and only catching parts of the conversation. “Yes, Black lives matter, and all lives matter.”
Jesus served his disciples in this most humble way, by washing their feet, the place where the most dirt, grime, and unwanted substances collect on the human body, a place so easily ignored. And that is why it is an act of humbleness and love. This day, Maundy Thursday, is the day Jesus broke his body with bread, and poured his blood with wine, and took time to wash the disciples feet with humble love.
During this evening in December, I, a Black woman, sat with two Indian women and a White man in one of the women’s living room. The conversation started at an Indian restaurant where the owner invited my friend and me to her home to pray. I was honored to have people engaging, through prayer, and a faith lens, the topic of racism and power dynamics related to the Black experience – that spoke love to me. They were willing to place themselves in a humble position to rub off dirt, grime, and unwanted feelings to try to understand how to make life different for Black lives, and for all lives. It is easy to ignore race and power dynamics if it doesn’t affect you. And yet, it affects all of us.
One of the Indian women mentioned in past conversations, marginalization, and how she feels the pressure to negotiate her cultural dress during worship services. She wants the Christian tone to be, “Our God” and not, “My God.” It is an extreme act of love and humbleness to put yourself in the position of someone else, whether you are White person trying to understand a Black person’s perspective, or Indian person trying to understand a Black person’s perspective, or a Black person trying to understand the Indian person’s experience – we all experience race, power, and privilege in some way, and to lend ourselves to understand each other is a powerful act of love.
Prayer: Dear I AM THAT I AM, you have taught us to love one another. Your son demonstrated the ultimate act of love through dying on the cross. You have given us a standard to uphold, and by your grace, we can do it. May you help us in the small acts of love, like being kind, saying nice words, treating each other well, and lending ourselves to listen to the hearts of those hurting, while we learn how to die to ourselves, and let you live within us. YHWH, you are the Most High God, and without your love, we will perish. May we lend ourselves to your standard, dying daily to flesh, and may your mercy compel us to wash our brothers’ and sisters’ feet. In the name of Yeshua, Amen.