Lenten Devotional: Maundy Thursday
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, 'Do you know what I have done to you?
– John 13:12
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
– John 13:34
Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and wrapped a towel around his waist. He poured water into a basin, knelt at the feet of his disciples and one by one took their dirty, calloused, tired and worn feet into his hands and washed them and dried them. He humbled himself before them and became the least among them.
According to ancient Jewish commentary, not even Hebrew slaves were expected to undertake such a menial task. Hosts might show hospitality to their guests and bring them a bowl of water in order that they might wash their own feet, but to actually wash another's feet was to take on an the lowest form of service, putting the other in a place of honor.
They did not understand, but Jesus did. He was showing them how to love one another. In the hours before he would be escorted to his death, when that surely should have been the only thing on his mind, he was focused completely on caring for those whom he loved, that they might know how to care for one another.
Last week StoryCorps featured a segment on Francois Clemmons. For 25 years, Clemmons played a role on the beloved children's program Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Clemmons joined the cast of the show in 1968, becoming the first African-American to have a recurring role on a children's television series.
Fred Rogers, who was an ordained Presbyterian minister, asked Clemmons to be a police officer on the show. Clemmons says he didn't like the idea much at first.
"I grew up in the ghetto. I did not have a positive opinion of police officers. Policemen were siccing police dogs and water hoses on people," he says. "And I really had a hard time putting myself in that role. So I was not excited about being Officer Clemmons at all." Still, he came around to it eventually and agreed to take on the role.
There is one scene that was very powerful for Clemons; one that he remembers with great emotion. It was from an episode that aired in 1969, in which Rogers had been resting his feet in a plastic pool on a hot day.
"He invited me to come over and to rest my feet in the water with him," Clemmons recalls. "The icon Fred Rogers not only was showing my brown skin in the tub with his white skin as two friends, but as I was getting out of that tub, he was helping me dry my feet."
Clemmons says that Mr. Rogers, and their feet in the tub together, and the way Rogers dried his feet all touched him in moving ways that he hadn't expected.
He says he'll never forget the day Rogers wrapped up the program, as he always did, by hanging up his sweater and saying, "You make every day a special day just by being you, and I like you just the way you are." This time in particular, Rogers had been looking right at Clemmons, and after they wrapped, he walked over.
Clemmons asked him, "Fred, were you talking to me?"
"Yes, I have been talking to you for years, but you heard me today," replied Rogers.
"It was like telling me 'I'm okay as a human being,'" Clemmons says. "That was one of the most meaningful experiences I'd ever had."
Jesus was calling his disciples, and is calling us, to a life of loving one another, to a life of putting the other before ourselves, to a life of humility and service.
"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another."
Rev. Brent Barry, Pastor, NorthPark Presbyterian Church