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Getting our feet wet: Ideas for Maundy Thursday?

I’m working on this year’s Maundy Thursday order of service – combining existing customs here with some elements of a particularly effective Maundy service I attended a couple of years ago. I’m grappling with one significant logistical question: how to arrange the footwashing.

My basic parameters: It has to include as many people as possible, while still giving those who really really don’t want to do it a comfortable “out”; and it has to fulfill Jesus’ commandment on the subject: “You also ought to wash one another’s feet” – not, “your clergy…” or “your vestry should wash your feet,” which tends to reinforce hierarchy (through inversion, but still unmistakably) instead of mutuality. Oh, and it can’t be too elaborate or messy… 

What have you seen, or done, that worked well?

{ 6 } Comments

  1. Mary S. | February 18, 2009 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    My experience is that it just takes years of making the rite open and available and gradually people will avail themselves. Pitcher of a size easy to handle with warm water, pile of towels, chair for however many stations, usually 2. Washee becomes washer for the next person.

    Last year I realized something new. If knees don’t work well, that’s a barrier to participation. I’d put a station by a rail where someone could hold on to have a foot washed or can stand on a lower level when washing.

    Simplicity, clarity, patience and there’s a great Eucharistic prayer that mentions footwashing in the NZ PB!

  2. Pamela | March 31, 2009 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    The main tweak we do is changing the first reading. I think that horrible reading about dead children wrongfoots the whole evening. People start out with, if that’s the kind of thing God does, why am I here?

  3. Christopher Paine | April 1, 2009 at 1:17 am | Permalink

    One possible variation is to do a hand washing instead of a foot washing.

  4. Phil | April 1, 2009 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Christopher– is a Maundy Thursday handwashing something that you have experience of? I’ve seen the idea suggested once or twice, but I’ve never seen it done, and I’ve never been entirely clear on the reasoning underlying making a change from foot washing to hand washing.

  5. Rick Hill | March 16, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    The practice of foot-washing was not uncommon back in Jesus’ time. Travelers would often have their feet washed when they got to the host’s home. Jesus was not instituting some new practice, but redefining the roles in a very old practice. The disciples did not feel uncomfortable about having their feet washed, what made them uncomfortable was having Jesus, the rabbi, doing the deed.
    We feel uncomfortable today, because we don’t do foot washings. What I am trying to think is what do we do that allows for the radical reversal of roles that Jesus demonstrated?

  6. Angela D | March 11, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    I have done hand washing for several years now. They did footwashing in Jesus’ day because everyone wore sandals and the roads were dusty- hosts would have their servants wash guests feet before setting down to a meal since the tables were much lower and a persons feet would not be that far from the food when it was served. Today we don’t wash our guests feet when they come over for dinner, but we do provide them a sink, soap and water to wash their hands before we sit down to a meal. Which is why I think it is acceptable to do a hand washing- and people are not as uncomfortable with it as they would have been with foot washing.

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