Maundy Thursday Devotional by Julie Jackson

Group 236

John 3:1-17;31b-35

The image painted for us in the gospel of John on Maundy Thursday of Jesus washing feet is recognized as a significant part of Holy Week. Maybe in your tradition or your experience in worship life, you have been to a service where there’s been feet washing. I want to share a story about one of my foot-washing experiences. 

At the age of 20-something, I decided getting a tattoo would be a fantastic idea. I thought long and hard about this for years because I knew how my parents felt. They didn’t want me to mark my body in this way. They didn’t want this to be a permanent reminder of a bad choice that I made. They didn’t want me to be ashamed of it or looked at as somebody other than a good person. I always struggled with that. Why would a tattoo mean I’m not a good person? I know a lot of amazing tattooed people. But it was in the back of my mind, always. When I decided to get this tattoo, I did not consult with my parents. I decided the best way to do this was to get a tattoo in a place I could cover up. Maybe my parents would never know. Maybe this would never be something for them to look at me with shame or disappointment. So, I got this tattoo on the top of my foot. I had this beautiful script written, and it says “love,” and there are two little hearts representing each of my children. 

Fast forward a few years, and I found myself in a worship service at a retreat, and there would be feet washing. And everyone is encouraged to participate. Imagine my angst. I sat there, coming to terms with the fact that I was going to have to strip my feet and bear them to everyone in this sacred space. I would inevitably show this tattoo. This source of shame for me that I’ve been internalizing for years. The secret that I had been hiding from my parents. But I rolled up my pants and took my shoes and socks off, and when it was my turn to get to the basin, I put my feet in that water. A woman about my mother’s age looked up at me and began to wash my feet.

We both were silent, which is common if you’ve ever been to this type of service. It can be an uncomfortable place to sit,  as the washer of someone’s feet and the one whose feet are being washed. This vulnerable part of your body is just exposed. Sometimes, our feet are a source of shame. Our feet are what carry us. Our feet get dirty and smelly. Our feet often say and express the health of our entire bodies. But I sat in discomfort, and I could feel the tears filling my eyes. I was thinking if I knew I was going to die tomorrow, I’m not sure this is what I would have chosen to do. But Jesus did. And Jesus tells us in this gospel that this is what we should do. To care for each other. When people are willing to share the most vulnerable parts of themselves with us, we should care, protect, and love. Not shame or judge. Just love, as he did. 

I held it together for this service, and my feet dried; I put on my socks and shoes and returned to my seat. I sat in the discomfort. As the service continued, the worship finished, and the altar was stripped of everything. The paraments are tidied up, the candles are extinguished, the bible removed, and the altar was washed in preparation for Jesus’s body. It seems so bare and exposed when this happens. Typically, on Maundy Thursday, we are invited to sit as long as we want to reflect, maybe to pray. There won’t be any celebratory hymns played; we all depart in silence, awaiting what’s to come. And we all know the fate of Jesus. 

I left that space and went on to the rest of the retreat. I found myself looking out of the corner of my eye for the woman who washed my feet. I wanted to avoid her. I didn’t want her to ask. I didn’t want to answer any questions or for her to say something about a source of shame that I felt about myself. But at the end of the weekend, she approached me and sat in the chair right next to me. She said, “I want you to know that I love your tattoo, and I hope you don’t think I was judging you when I washed your feet. When I washed your foot, I noticed the tattoo started shining and radiated the word ‘love.’ And it reminded me of what we were here to do. To love one another just as Jesus loves us.” Not what I expected. But I cried. She cried. We hugged and said our goodbyes. 

I want to say that in the wisdom of my life’s choices, that’s why I got this tattoo. For this exact experience to happen! But it’s not. However, at that moment, when I was stripped of everything that I had to hide, I was exposed and vulnerable to judgment. And in that raw moment, I wasn’t judged; I was loved. I was reminded that on that final day of Jesus’s life, he chose to sit in the discomfort of washing other people’s feet. A couple of months ago, we heard the Gospel message from John the Baptist. He said the Lord is sending someone greater than me. We are unfit to untie the straps of his sandals. And yet, as unfit as we are, Jesus chooses to untie our sandals and wash our feet, knowing we don’t fully understand God’s love for us, knowing that we are washed clean in those waters. The waters of our baptism unite us and remind us of what we are fit for. To share the news of his life, love, and sacrifice for all of us. 

So tonight, if you’re going to participate in a foot washing service. Don’t be afraid to do it. Don’t let this be a source of shame for you. Sit in the discomfort. Sit in the love. And when the paraments on the altar are stripped, the candles are extinguished. Everything we adorn our altars with is stripped, leaving the sanctuary bare, exposed, and uncomfortable. Sit a bit longer and remember why Jesus chose to live his last days the way he did. To show us that God’s love strips away all that divides us and all that shames us and unites us as the body of Christ here today. Take that discomfort and show how much we can love. It’s not our buildings, sacred spaces, or our altars that matter. What matters is Christ’s love and light that we carry out of this space to the world. The gifts that we are so blessed to share with a world crying out for love, acceptance, wholeness, and healing. My prayer for us is to find the sacred moment to sit in this discomfort for the sake of Jesus and find a way forward, continuing this journey of love that Jesus has started us on. Blessings to you and yours this Holy Week and beyond.

View Other Devotionals