Wash Those Feet

By Rev. Chris Jorgensen
August 1, 2021
Video of entire service: https://www.facebook.com/hanscomparkchurch/videos/537657554241562

Scripture: John 13:3-9, 12-15

Well, friends, we are having a very sacramental Sunday here at Hanscom Park church. Now, I’m going to start by seeing what we know about sacraments. You didn’t know there was going to be a quiz, did you? Well, you should have done the reading.

Okay, here we go. In The United Methodist Church, what are the two sacraments that we celebrate?

That’s right. We remembered our baptism today, which is one of the sacraments, and we are going to have communion before the end of this service, which is the other sacrament. Now you might wonder what makes something a “sacrament” rather than simply a ritual or service. Traditionally, a sacrament has been defined as “a Christian ordinance manifesting an inward, spiritual grace by an outward, visible sign or symbol.” [1] 

So if we think about the two sacraments we are exploring today, this means that there’s a special grace, a special presence of God when we participate in the sacrament. That’s not something we can see, right? But in a sacrament, that special presence of God is made concrete in something visible. So, in baptism, what is the symbol, the tangible, concrete thing that kind embodies and mediates the presence of God? Hint: you might have gotten splashed by it. Right, water.

Now, in communion or the Lord’s Supper, what are those elements that manifest or mediate God’s presence for us? Again, right. Bread and juice (or wine or water).

Now, sometimes we say that the UMC has just these two sacraments (as opposed to seven like in the Catholic church) because of the following reason. We say that these two rituals are sacraments because 1) Jesus did them himself and 2) Jesus explicitly instructed his disciples to do them as well. I think that’s true for both baptism and communion.

Yet, there is another thing in the scripture that Jesus did and then told his disciples to do. In fact, the Mennonite church considers it a required “ordinance of God.” But some Methodist churches only do it once a year, and some don’t do it at all. Do you know what that other thing is? (Hint: it was in today’s scripture.) Correct. Washing feet.

photo of a foot

Now, this is where I want to talk with you a little about whether this scripture is meant literally. Sure, Jesus was making a poignant example in this scene right before his death when he takes off his outer robe and ties a towel around his waist and humbly, gently, very personally and compassionately washes the feet of his friends. It’s a very intimate kind of action. He wants the disciples to see the kind of humble and compassionate service into which they are being called.

But I don’t think he literally wants his disciples to wash feet. It is a metaphor. Washing feet is a symbol for the way that compassionate and humble acts of service are the way Jesus’ followers (including you and me) will both be transformed and then transform the world.

Last week, I heard about something I felt really illustrated the beauty of the kind of humble service into which we are called. I asked everyone involved if I could share this story, and they said yes. 

One of our youth members, Wilhelmina, had pretty major knee surgery last week. My daughter Ruby and I were able to go visit her the day after the surgery, and she was in some pain but doing okay. She shared with us that she was pretty nervous about changing the bandages in a couple of days though. The doctors had made a pretty significant incision.

But Wilhelmina was comforted by the fact that Keith, another member of this church, who had been a husband and caregiver to Wilhelmina’s grandmother Evelyn, was going to come over and help her change the bandages. See, Keith, when Evelyn was sick toward the end of her life, had gotten lots of practice in that kind of caregiving. 

Though Evelyn died five years ago, of course Keith is still part of the family, and in changing those bandages, he was humbly and gently and compassionately caring for Wilhelmina. He took something he learned during what I’m sure was a very difficult time, and he used it to partake in the sacrament of washing feet – just like Jesus told us to do. 

If that is not a visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, I’m not sure what is.

So, new members, as you go forward in your walk with Christ, open your eyes to the presence of God’s grace here in this place: in the sacraments of baptism and communion. Also, open your eyes to see those who wash others’ feet…not literally…but in acts of humble, gentle, personal service…and listen for the moments in which Jesus is calling you to do the same.

May it be so for all of us who are connected in baptism and fed at God’s table to be compassionate healers in the world.

Thanks be to God.



[1] https://www.umc.org/en/content/glossary-sacrament


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