On this day, Thursday in Holy Week, we remember the last supper Jesus shared with his disciples, which may or may not have been a Passover meal. Only John’s gospel, however, tells how, after dinner, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, guys who wore sandals on unpaved dirt roads all the time, whose feet must have been filthy. This was a servant’s work, and Jesus gave his friends a new commandment (“mandatum” in Latin):
Love one another as I have loved you.John 13:34
For this reason we churchy people do a strange thing: we wash one another’s feet. It’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, and I know lots of people who get pedicures first. It’s humbling and touching, too.
This year, we won’t be doing this in our churches, but it’s simple enough to do at home. If you want to include those living alone or who might otherwise have difficulty with the physical aspect of washing feet, you could do this on Zoom and ask them to be the readers. Singing on Zoom works best when all but one person who will serve as the song leader are muted.
A Maundy Thursday Foot-Washing Service for Households
Ideally, this service takes place after the evening meal, and bed or quiet activity follows. If there are enough readers, please divide the parts into three as indicated. Have a basin of warm water and clean towels ready. Light a candle before you begin.
Reader: On the first Day of Passover, Jesus’s disciples said to him,
Peter: Where do you want us to go and get ready for the Passover meal?
Reader: So, Jesus sent Peter and John off, saying to them,
Jesus: When you go into the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house he enters, and say to the owner of the house, “The teacher asks, “Do you have a guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. It is there you are to prepare.
Reader: As it grew dark, Jesus arrived with the twelve. During supper, Jesus 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 Peter, who said to him,
Peter: Lord, are you going to wash my feet?
Jesus: You don’t understand what I am doing now, but you will understand later.
Reader: After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and returned to the table, Jesus said to them,
Jesus: Do you know what I have done to you? You call me “Teacher” and Lord, and you are right, because I am. If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you, too, must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: just as I have done, you also must do.
Jesus: I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.
Prayers and thanksgivings may be offered now, for ourselves and others. Conclude with the following prayer:
Reader: Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and in the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen. (from The Book of Common Prayer, p. 139)
Extinguish the candle. End the evening quietly.
Another idea for Maundy Thursday is to bake bread and exchange loaves with friends and neighbors. For a mostly hands-off recipe, you can even start this one the day before– it’s very simple and impressive. Another easy and delicious recipe does require kneading, but a stand mixer can take care of that for you. Write out the above prayer (“Lord Jesus, stay with us…”) to give with the bread. While many of us are not worshipping in person now, it helps to be reminded that our dinner tables are altars, too, and Jesus is present at both. Anna Ostenso Moore’s lively picture book, We Gather at this Table, with vibrant illustrations by Peter Kreuger, makes the connection between the bread that’s broken at church and the bread that’s shared at home.
It’s been a long Lent, my friends. We are hungry for community, hungry for justice, hungry for Love. As the poet David Whyte says,
This is the time of loaves
People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.
Holy food for holy people. Bread and scripture. Right now, it’s enough.
*All the Holy Week and Easter at Home posts are gathered here*
Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.