13 Before the Festival of Passover, Jesus knew that his time had come to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them fully.
2 Jesus and his disciples were sharing the evening meal. The devil had already provoked Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew the Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God. 4 So he got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing. 6 When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.”
8 “No!” Peter said. “You will never wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.”
9 Simon Peter said, “Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head!”
10 Jesus responded, “Those who have bathed need only to have their feet washed, because they are completely clean. You disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 He knew who would betray him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”
12 After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table. He said to them, “Do you know what I’ve done for you? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. 14 If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do. 16 I assure you, servants aren’t greater than their master, nor are those who are sent greater than the one who sent them. 17 Since you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.
31b “Now the Human One[a] has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify the Human One[b] in himself and will glorify him immediately. 33 Little children, I’m with you for a little while longer. You will look for me—but, just as I told the Jewish leaders, I also tell you now—‘Where I’m going, you can’t come.’
34 “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
It is Maundy Thursday. Jesus has gathered with his disciples for a final meal. Since this is John's reading, and in John Jesus is the paschal lamb who is sacrificed, Passover will not begin until the following day, the day of the crucifixion. Nonetheless there is a meal. Rather than instituting a supper of remembrance, Jesus instittues the practice of footwashing.
Footwashing is an act undertaken by a servant. If one visits a home the servants will come and wash the feet (after all the roads are dusty and the feet need to be cleaned and refreshed). In this occasion it is Jesus who takes on this role. Peter obviously is uncomfortable with it. He would rather not be put in this position. But Jesus insists. In fact, he tells Peter that unless he allows Jesus to wash his feet, he will have "no share with me." If this is true, then wash my hands and head as well. Jesus says, no, this is sufficient. Just the feet are dirty. The rest is clean -- that is except for the one who will betray him. But John never says that Jesus refrained from washing the feet of Judas. Jesus even serves the role of servant to the one who will betray him.
Footwashing is not a common practice in most Protestant churches, though many Anabaptist churches have continued the practice. It just never seemed to catch on for most of us. My own denomination started out as a movement to restore New Testament practices. We embraced believers baptism and weekly communion, but not footwashing. For most moderns, it's just a bit too personal. I've replaced the washing of feet with the washing of hands -- but that has its own issues (remember Pilate washing his hands of the situation?). many of us have been impressed by the actions of Pope Francis. It had been common practice for the Pope to wash the feet of priests as a way of reenacting the events described, but Francis has taken this further by washing the feet of prisoners, Muslims, and women. It hasn't sat well with many -- but he doesn't seem to concerned. But then he's trying to do what Jesus would do.
All of this leads us to the new mandate to love. In the Synoptics and in 1 Corinthians 11, a supper is instituted as a means of remembering and re-presenting the story of Jesus. John doesn't have that, but he does have a commandment. The word Maundy, which we use to describe the services we share in today, comes from the Latin for commandment -- Mandātum novum dō vōbīs (a new commandment I give you). What is the commandment? What are we to do? Have weekly communion? No, we are to love one another as Jesus has loved us. Then comes the tough part:
This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”We all know what is being said of the church (the body of Christ). We are not always very good at loving one another. But, the mandate remains. Go and love, so that the world might know we belong to Jesus!