Sunday, November 7, 2010

Communion and the Washing of Feet

   Our church just recently had our communion service and I spoke on the spiritual meaning, and importance, of the washing of feet before the communion meal.  If you have never had a full biblical communion service, which does include the washing of feet, look into it, it's awesome.  I have transcribed the brief message I gave concerning that aspect of the service for your benefit and edification.  

Washing Feet:

                Tonight we will observe the act of washing each other’s feet.   We find the biblical basis in the New Testament found during the last supper where Jesus washes his disciples feet in John 13.  And if you read as far back as Genesis 18, the act of washing of feet was an important part of the cultural understanding of coming to rest as the guest of someone. 

                It is important when we come to scripture to understand the context of its message.  All scripture was written for real people living in a real time and place, and the message had an important meaning to those original hearers.  And in light of the washing of feet as part of our communion service it is of essential importance. 

                The act of washing of ones feet in the middle east of the ancient world was a very important and essential part of daily life.  While today our feet are generally always completely covered by comfortable shoes and warm socks, such items were rare at best during the biblical era.  And even when we go with only sandals we travel on well paved and clean roads and sidewalks.  If you were going hiking with friends and someone showed up with sandals you would be shocked.  But for the ancient world there were no well paved and clean paths.  The dirt, mud and filth of the outside world clung to your main mode of transportation, your feet.  And you were often walking over the same terrain that pack animals were also traveling.  And if anyone has been riding in a carriage drawn by a horse, you have learned that they are not too concerned about where they relieve themselves.

                By the time you had arrived at your destination, by the time you were ready to settle in for the evening, your feet would be completely covered in filth and grime.  Not only were they dirty, but you can only imagine the smell.  Some of you would probably confess that even when your spouse has their feet covered by shoes all day, that smell is bad enough.  Just imagine if they were walking in mud and dirt all day as well!  Just the other day I had accidentally stepped in some dog “droppings” while walking my dog.  I took my shoes off on the patio, refusing to even bring them inside to clean them off. 

                It was not just for your sake that your host would offer you water for the cleaning of your feet, but it was for their sake as well.  Especially before a meal.  Can you imagine trying to enjoy some delectable dishes your host has prepared for you and all you can taste is the smell of everyone’s filthy feet?  You could not truly enjoy the evening your host was offering to you as long as the soles of your feet continued to be covered in the filth of the world that had inevitably clung to you.

                In John 13:3-7 we see Christ turn this tradition into something much more beautiful than simple practicality:
3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
   Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
 10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you- also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Three things to draw your attention to in this passage.

1)    To truly come to this time of communion, our feet need to be washed.  And it is not just a physical washing, but a spiritual washing, prompted and conducted through Christ.  We cannot come completely to the dinner table while our souls continue to be covered by the dirt and grime of this world.  Our own ability to engage with what the communion table represents will be hampered when our spiritual taste buds are being flavored by the overpowering odor of the dirt of this world.  There will come a day when our bare feet can walk cleanly on paved streets of gold, but not yet.

2)      This is a time where as believers, who are already clean, have the opportunity to let go of that filth from the world that still finds a way to cling to us as we go through life.  In the 10th verse we are reminded that we have already been bathed, symbolically we see that in believers baptism.  This, tonight, is a time where we can receive a spiritual “tune up”.  Our bodies have already been made clean through Christ, but we still have to realize that we can still carry dirt, filth and baggage into our time of communion

3)      We need to serve each other as Christ showed us, humbly and lovingly, help to prepare ourselves  to come to the lord in communion together.  God has not called us to be spiritual lone wolves.  We need each other to help by the serving through the washing of our dirt.  It is through our community that we can experience the regular touch ups to help us work through the filth that we still find ourselves stepping in, even as believers.

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