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Maundy Thursday: The washing of the disciples' feet

To reflect on a lesser known part of the Easter story.

by Ronni Lamont

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To reflect on a lesser known part of the Easter story.

Preparation and materials

  • Bible reference: John 13.1–17, 31b–35.
  • You might download some pictures of typical houses from New Testament times, featuring the large jars that water was stored in.
  • The story could be read by more than one student. Dressing them in traditional clothes would add to the story.
  • You will need a candle for Time for reflection.

Assembly

Introduce the story as an imagined retelling of one part of the Easter story.

The washing of the disciples’ feet

Water: strange stuff. Never enough of it in a household like this, and it’s my job to make sure there is. So, most days, I go down to the well time after time. And some people appreciate that, and some don’t. We had those children here the other day – waste, waste, waste. Worse thing is, I have to clear up the spilt water as well. So by the end of the day, I’m glad to splash some on my face, and go to bed. But I also like to wash my feet before bed, and many see that as a waste of water. But, after the Master was here, I see it as more a prayer than anything else – a way to remember him, and his friends.

It was Passover that he came; came to eat the meal with his friends. But it was dangerous for them by then; the priests had begun to wonder how they could be rid of him. He was upsetting the hierarchy left, right and centre, and they couldn’t risk losing their Roman privileges. Being an official religion and all that, you have to watch your step with the guards, or you get relegated to behind closed doors – persecutions and deaths. No, they didn’t want to risk losing their official status for Jesus and his friends.

Strange thing was, he didn’t do it when they first arrived; I’d washed everyone’s feet as they came in, as I always do. They’d sat down, and begun to eat. After a while, it went quiet. They were all wondering what would happen next. Jesus got up and beckoned me to him. Over I went, thinking he wanted me to run an errand or something. But no, first he took off his outer clothes, then he took the towel that I’d used – it wasn’t too clean by then – and tied it round his waist. He picked up the pitcher of water and my bowl from the stand, and went over to Simon, or Peter as he was known. Jesus knelt down in front of Peter, and began to pour water over his feet, and dry them. Not scrappily, as I must admit I did, but carefully, drying in between the toes like a mother does with her baby.

Peter was horrified. He jumped up and shouted at Jesus. ‘What are you doing? You don’t wash my feet – the servant did that already!’

Jesus just looked. He often did that. Just looked. Then he slowly shook his head.

‘Oh Peter, you don’t understand.’

‘No, I don’t,’ replied Peter. ‘Do you want to wash my head and hands too?’

Jesus waited. Peter sat down, and Jesus returned to the task.

He washed all their feet. Carefully and with great attention to detail. He seemed to relish the contact. It was unbearably sad, and tense, as they watched and then waited for him to explain.

He put his clothes back on and sat down. To a man, they waited for him to tell them what on earth was going on.

He sighed.

Then he spoke to himself, so quietly I don’t think any of them heard it; but I did. I was standing in the shadows, where I always stood, waiting and watching.

‘They’re not ready, Father,’ he said.

Then he turned and spoke; mainly to Peter, but so the others could hear.

‘I am your Lord and teacher, you call me that. I wanted to show you that in the kingdom of God, there is no hierarchy. No one is better than anyone else. We are all equal before our heavenly Father. So, I washed your feet to show you that it is so. If I can wash your feet, then you can wash each other’s. And anyone who needs his or her feet washing. In the kingdom, all are equal.’

He sighed again. After a moment, he gave Judas a piece of bread, and Judas took it and ate it.

He gave the others bread too, but I noticed that Judas left after eating his. He quietly went past me and out into the night. I remember noticing how dark it was outside.

They all left soon afterwards. Others tell me that they went to Gethsemane, and we all know where Jesus was taken after that.

The others? No one knows where they went that night. Vanished, into the ground, that’s where they went. I tidied up, and went to bed. It was the next day that I heard what had happened to Jesus. Did he know what was coming? I think he did. Whether he knew all that was going to happen – now that’s a question I can’t answer.

That night, Jesus went into the dark, and it stayed dark for him even after sunrise that Friday morning. It stayed dark for many of us too, those of us who watched, and waited, waiting for the sun to rise.

Time for reflection

Light a candle, and encourage the students to think about the story they’ve just heard.

How do you cope when people break boundaries with you in the way that Jesus did in this story? Do you adjust and smile, or do you respond in an aggressive way, trying to keep traditional boundaries in place?

Jesus wants his followers to be servants. How easy is that?

Sing the song as a prayer.

Hymn

‘Make me a channel of your peace’ (Hymns Old and New, 328)

Publication date: March 2010   (Vol.12 No.3)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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