(inspired by John 13: 1-20)
Here is a litany for a service of foot washing (on Maundy Thursday or other occasions) written by Reggie M. Kidd. (If you use material from this blog, please be careful to credit the original author and source)
O Prince of Peace, O Friend of Sinners,
we praise you and give you thanks,
because you laid aside your power as a garment
and took upon yourself the form of a slave.
You became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
You allowed yourself to be born to die in our place,
You allowed your own feet to be anointed for death.
You allowed a sinner to wash your feet with her tears.
For God chose what is low and despised in the world
to bring to nothing things that are.
Therefore, with the woman who gave you birth,
with the woman who anointed you for death,
with the woman who worshiped you with her tears,
and with all our fellow sinners
who have loved and served you from that time till now,
we praise you, Lord Jesus.
O Eternal Father, blessed is our brother Jesus,
who on that night before Passover,
rose from the Supper, laid aside his garments
took a towel and poured water,
and washed his disciples’ feet, saying to them:
“If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet,
you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
If you know these things,
blessed are you if you do them.”
Come now, mighty Spirit of God,
wash us and make us one body in Christ,
that, as we are bound together in this act of love,
we may no longer be in bondage
to the principalities and powers that enslave creation,
but may know your liberating peace
such as the world cannot give. Amen.
A Maundy Thursday Handwashing and Table Service
Handwashing is an ancient human gesture embedded in daily practice. It can now be a matter of life and death during a time of contagion. We need literal as well as spiritual cleansing in these times. Holy Week scriptures offer us a story of compulsive washing and a narrative of compassionate cleansing. Pilate, politician of an empire, publicly washes his hands, attempting to shed his responsibility for protecting the innocent. He attempts to wash his hands of the whole affair. In contrast, Jesus in the privacy of a home, takes a towel and washes the feet of his friends. That washing immerses them in his ministry, cleanses and empowers them to “do this” for others in memory of him.
These two stories of washings invite us to baptismal renewal in this week and lead us to a Table. Jesus gathers his friends for a meal when life as they know it is ending. That Supper is a meal of memory and hope: the people pass over, from death to life, from slavery to a promise of freedom. It is a meal of wonderous love and amazing grace, first offered in a home and then as the church expanded, in sanctuaries. This can be a time to return to home as a sanctuary again.
There is a tradition of handwashing in preparation for sharing in a sacred meal. Psalm 26 was once used sung by those who gathered in Jerusalem. Centuries later it was recited by priests preparing to preside in the sacrament of the bread of life. They would pray these words in silence while preparing by washing their hands:
I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O Lord, singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds. O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides. Do not sweep me away with sinners, nor my life with the bloodthirsty, those in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes. - Psalm 26: 6-10
These ancient words include the washing, the coming to the altar, songs of praise, and testimonies to God’s redemptive work. There is a plea for personal safety and a fierce call for justice, all connected to washing and the sacrament of holy communion.
There is also another Table, the Love Feast, where Christians have gathered to celebrate the presence of Jesus, our brother, savior, friend in testimony, song, and praise. A Love Feast traditionally includes a foot washing (hand washing in this service), the greeting of peace; confession of sin, expressions of faith, and praise through songs and testimony.
This service of washing and the Table offer us hospitality and reconciliation with God and with each other. A Love Feast can deepen our understanding of Holy Communion if the choice is to “fast” until the community can gather together again. United Methodists pastors should take this opportunity to share This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion with their congregations. If we cannot gather to celebrate Holy Communion in sanctuaries as in the past, this table service offers washing and a sacred meal at home.
However, sharing on-line communion in homes with a pastor/presider could also be our Wesleyan heritage, particularly given the development of the itineracy as pastoral care in times of great need. Pastors need to keep informed to what their bishop is advising, especially as some bishops have revised their request for a moratorium. The bishops in the Western Jurisdiction write: “Especially in this time of physical separation from one another, Holy Communion can be a conduit of God’s healing power. We remain open to what God is teaching us in this moment. We believe in the importance of being community, present together at the Table of our Lord, repentant of our sin and seeking to live in peace with one another.” See: http://www.calpacumc.org/news/western-jurisdiction-bishops-offer-guidance-for-the-observance-of-holy-communion.
There are conduits and channels of grace through live-streaming, Zoom, or phone. Printed materials for this service can be mailed or emailed to members. One essential reminder for any service at home at this time: one person can be a household, sheltering in place. Some liturgical settings are suggested, but a kitchen sink, a candle, towel, table, water, oil, and food are the only things required. This service is designed to be a spiritual exercise for one individual, or two or three gathered together, as well as a pastor connected to others via digital means.
MAUNDY THURSDAY HANDWASHING AND TABLE
Begin the service by lighting candles as the words are read.
L: Blessed are you Holy One, our God, Creator of the universe.
You form light and create darkness, make peace, and give life to all things. Isaiah 45:7
WORDS OF WELCOME (THOSE AT HOME OR/AND ON-LINE)
SONG OR READING
PRAYER FOR PURITY
to you all hearts are open, all desires known,
and from you no secrets are hidden
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit
that we may perfectly love you
and worthily magnify your name,
through Christ our Lord. Amen.
SONG OF ASSURANCE OF GOD’S LOVE
This could be an antique pitcher with basin on a small table or a pitcher at the kitchen sink. The water is warm. There is scented soap with good hand towels, one for each participant. The server/presider says, “Remember, you cannot wash away your sins.” One person then pours the water as each person in turn washes their hands. The Doxology or a song of praise can be sung during the washing and drying of hands.
BAPTISMAL RENEWAL BASIN
After the first person has washed their hands, they move to another pitcher and bowl at one end of the dining table or at a small separate table. The pitcher/container could be clear glass and hold anointing oil or plain olive oil. The server/presider says, “Remember, you are baptized in Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit.” As the oil is poured into each person’s palms held over the basin, they can touch the oil to their own forehead, their heart, or rub it into their hands as they say, “Thanks be to God”.
THE SERVANT’S BASIN
The third pitcher and bowl should be well-used, and the towels could be kitchen towels, one for each person. The water in this pitcher is cold. The server/presider pours water into the open hands and says, “Do this in memory of the One who did this for you.” The response is, “I will remember.” Each person takes their hand towel to the Table and are invited to keep the towel as a symbol of service during this season.
It is at this point, the on-line presider/pastor can begin the Great Thanksgiving, leading the prayers while people at home are sitting at table with individual cups and bread. It is suggested that the Epiclesis, prayer for the Spirit be read in union. It is the prayer of the community; its language is plural, and it binds the whole body of Christ into service.
L: Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here,
and on these gifts of bread and wine.
Unison: Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ,
that we may be for the world the body of Christ,
redeemed by his blood.
By your Spirit make us one with Christ,
one with each other,
and one in ministry to all the world,
until Christ comes in final victory,
and we feast at his heavenly banquet.
If the Table is a Love Feast celebrating Christ and the priesthood of all believers, the food to be shared can be what the community finds comforting. Preparations can include sharing recipes and stories about what makes them feel cared for. Favorite table graces can be shared. A reading from scripture or the Covenant Service can be done before eating. Invite those present to respond to the question: “What does it mean to me to serve Christ?”
Christ has many services to be done.
Some are more easy and honorable,
others are more difficult and disgraceful.
Some are suitable to our inclination and interests,
others are contrary to both.
In some we may please Christ and please ourselves.
But then there are other works where we cannot please Christ
except by denying ourselves.
It is necessary, therefore,
that we consider what it means to be servant of Christ.
The poem “Directions for Using a Towel” can be used as mediation on the meaning of the towels or as a closing reading before the benediction.
DIRECTIONS FOR USING A TOWEL
To be used for:
Mopping spilled milk.
Coping with sighs.
Holding on when it’s too hot to handle.
Binding wounds in a world of scars.
Better than Bounty, thin as skin.
Don’t give it up, or throw it in;
It simply grows more holy over time.
For when the One
that death could not defeat
the towel will be our sign.
All grave and dusty sins are washed away.
God takes us by the hand and helps us rise.
 Wesley Covenant Prayer adapted by Heather Murray Elkins ©2002 The Holy Stuff of Life, all rights reserved.