Humility and Hand Washing
Today is Maundy Thursday, the day that we traditionally gather to share a meal of bread and wine that has come to be called communion – a word derived from Latin for fellowship, mutual participation, a sharing.
How can we share communion when we can’t come together? That is the conundrum of many pastors and of me during this COVID-19 pandemic. The meal and the washing ceremony have a deep place in my heart and it’s hard to give that up.
So instead of focusing on what we can’t do, let’s shift to focus on what we can do.
We can be grateful that God hasn’t gone anywhere. God is still here with us every moment of this crisis.
We can read and reflect on the words of these ancient stories – Passover and the Last Supper and listen for God’s guidance. So let’s do that together for a few minutes.
Passover happened as the last message to Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. The last of ten plagues was the death of the firstborn in every Egyptian household, and the blood on the door frame was a signal to skip the homes of the Israelites.
The Israelites were told to eat their meal hurriedly, with their shoes and coat on and prepared to leave. This wasn’t a relaxing meal with friends, it was a last meal before chaos and change.
Jesus’ story for today is not about the meal and those words: “This is my body given for you” or “This is a new covenant in my blood”. Instead it is Jesus showing what a new Passover tradition should be:
“Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things; you are blessed if you do them.”
It is hard for us to be willing to wash the feet of someone else for many reasons: privacy, intimacy, fear, and anxiety, to name a few.
We have to overcome our own expectations in order to be humble. That was Jesus’ lesson to his disciples on that Passover evening. God desires us to love and respect each other as equals because we are equally God’s children.
On this socially distanced Maundy Thursday, we are living Jesus’ teaching of humility and care. We are protecting each other from COVID-19 instead of selfishly insisting that we gather to continue a tradition. We are washing our hands and disinfecting doorknobs and light switches in the way that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Not because it is expected of us, but because we care for each other.
There will be many other years when we can come together and share a meal and wash each other’s hands or feet. But this year we have a unique opportunity to be Jesus for the world, washing our own hands so that others will be safe, loving one another as God has loved us.