Source: The Complete Library of Christian Worship, Robert E. Webber, General Editor

A connection between footwashing and the Lord's Supper has survived both in the liturgical church's Maundy Thursday rites and in the regular Communion practices of many smaller denominations that understand its practice as a form of literal obedience to the New Testament. As discussed in this section, it has always been understood as a statement of humility and loving service to one's neighbor.

Historical Origins And Development Of Footwashing

At the Last Supper Jesus gave special meaning to an ordinary custom of the Mediterranean world. Associated with the Lord's Supper and with baptismal rites in the early church, footwashing survived as part of the bishop's Maundy Thursday ritual, as a regular practice in monasteries, and as part of court ceremonial. At the same time, based on John 13, medieval and Reformation sects retained footwashing as a regular part of the Communion liturgy.

A Theology Of Footwashing

Because of the ambiguity stemming from differences between the Johannine and synoptic accounts in the New Testament, the relationship between footwashing, the Lord's Supper, and baptism has been variously interpreted. The rite has been understood to symbolize purification, humility, and service to one's neighbor.

A Liturgy For Footwashing

While some denominations and congregations include footwashing in their regular Communion or Lord's Supper celebrations, other practitioners include the rite only in their Maundy Thursday services. The following liturgy could be adapted for Passion Week or other occasions. In most footwashings, the sign-act itself embodies its own meaning, so the liturgical rhetoric may be minimal, assuming that leaders have provided some prior teaching about footwashing's history, development, and theological and ethical emphases. The liturgy given here also assumes footwashing's association with a larger celebration of the Lord's Table (for example, see "A Common Text for the Great Thanksgiving" in chapter 9), but details on the rest of the Communion service are not included here. The footwashing liturgy begins after the gathering, greeting, opening prayers, reading of Scripture, and celebration of the Lord's Table, all of which ought to be sensitive to footwashing themes. The introductory remarks, litany, and prayer are only examples of how one might provide interpretation.

Guidelines For Planning A Footwashing Service

Congregational leaders planning their first liturgical footwashing may take comfort in recognizing that the rite's traditions allow for tremendous flexibility and creativity. As with other symbolic religious acts, there is no one right way to celebrate footwashing.