Sermon Discussion: John 13:1-17

OK, here’s your chance. Please help me write my sermon! Feel free to respond to one of the following:

(1) What speaks to you in this passage — John 13:1-17?

(2) Should we practice foot-washing as a symbolic act, maybe even as a sacrament (Jesus didn’t say “do this in remembrance of me” but He does say “you should do as I have done for you” and “you will be blessed if you do this”)?

(3) What are some modern day equivalents of foot-washing?

(4) What do you think is the POINT of this event?


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  2. I have participated in footwashing in my home church, which practices it 2 – 4 times a year. It is of course very symbolic, rather than needed or practical, but it is also very personal and meaningful in the context of a chuch family and Christ’s example. In our congregation, we arrange it so it is totally optional, and provide 3 or more basin stations, or when we had an outdoor service, a number of basins which could be filled. People choose to wash each others feet as a couple, or as a group of women, or in whatever configuration they wish to express this service. It certainly doesn’t fall into the same significance as the Lord’s Supper, but it is also a meaningful way of participating in the example our Lord set, and in the body of Christ.

  3. “Loosing the sandal was the task of a slave. A disciple could not be expected to perform it. To get the full impact of this we must bear in mind that disciples did many services for their teachers. Teachers in ancient Palestine were not paid . . . But in partial compensation disciples were in the habit of performing little services for their Rabbis instead. But they had to draw the line somewhere, and menial tasks like loosing the sandal thong came under this heading. There is a Rabbinic saying (in its present
    form dating from A.D. 250, but probably much older): `Every service which a slave performs for his master shall a disciple do for his teacher except the loosing of his sandal thong.'”

  4. Pastor Norm,
    First: Thank you again for initiating all of this. I find myself doing some soul-searching and good reflection because of our conversation.

    Now: I very much appreciated your response to my comments. You are dead on. There absolutely IS a link between what Jesus was doing in washing the feet of his disciples and the Phil. 2 servant-passage. I see that my comment was too strongly worded.

    What I’m really thinking there is in the context of whether or not “foot-washing” might be sacramental. Jesus includes in his following comments saying, “Now,… you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Our act of washing one another’s feet (as Jesus recommends/commands?) would be less about remembering what he accomplished for us thru his death and resurrection, and would be more about our attitude and love for one another. That’s what I meant by “this act of Jesus does not point us to his self-sacifice on the cross.”
    YET, in the act, Christians might simultaneously be reminded of what Christ did while experiencing the humility and love involved in foot-washing. It’s only that Jesus didn’t purpose the act for that reason – primarily.
    Grace and Peace!

  5. Thanks for sharing these thoughts, John. Its been some time since I added this post, and forgot that I asked the question about foot-washing as a sacrament. I appreciate the way that you try to explain a “sacrament”, the connections between Baptism/Lord’s Supper and Circumcision/Passover. Personally, I would not advocate making foot-washing a sacrament, though I once heard an interesting case for that – hence the question.

    You are right about not having an OT precedent for foot-washing, but I want to raise the question about “this act of Jesus does not point to his self-sacrifice on the cross.” Somehow it seems to fit with the whole Philippians 2, emptying himself, taking the form of a servant thing. I would make a strong connection between this act and the cross, though not to warrant making it a sacrament.

    One reason foot-washing is such a powerful symbol is because it does expose the pridefulness of the human heart, it is not a pleasant task for either the washer or the washee. Even though the need for foot-washing is not there (not walking barefoot on dusty streets), the need for humbling the heart is definitely there!

    One last thing, I am probably not as strong or clear on my understanding of the sacraments as you are (or as our denomination is). Using the phrase “means of grace” much more broadly, I can see the sacramental nature (in a general sense) of foot-washing and other symbolic acts and experiences. I would not list foot-washing as one of the official sacraments, but it is a powerful means of grace, i.e. of the Spirit penetrating the heart, revealing the need for Jesus, and expressing grace and calling.

    Interesting conversation, thanks.

    Pastor Norm

  6. Foot washing should not be lifted to the title of sacrament.
    1) While this act of Jesus does point to his self-sacrifice on the cross, and while the act took place during (after) the meal when he instituted the Lord’s Supper and while the “washing” does have strong allusions to Baptism, the PURPOSE of this powerful rite when done by Christians is not to point us to the cross.
    2) The sacraments do have Old Testament “precedent”. Baptism was re-typed from circumcision (read the Apostle, Paul), a sign of entry into the covenant family of God. Lord’s Supper was re-typed from Passover, a meal celebrating the deliverance of God’s people by God. Both cricumcision and Passover have blood. Baptism and Lord’s Supper have no blood. The bloody mess stops at the cross of Jesus Christ. Foot washing has no precedent as a rite or sacrament of God’s people in their history pointing also forward TO Christ as well as backward to Christ.
    3) The practice of Foot washing by Christians points to the heart of service we’re to have for others. But even more! Foot washing is oddly harder for the “washee” than the “washer”. Refusal to alow one’s feet to be washed, exposes the prideful heart and unwilling spirit to be served (by Christ) and to be found “needing” and in need of grace; something that has always plagued the church.
    That said, this year we will be doing “foot washing” prior to our Maundy Thursday Fellowship Service (which includes celebration of the Lord’s Supper) for the first time.
    Pastor John Douma
    @ Second CRC, Byron Center MI

  7. When Jesus washed the feet, Judas was also there. Jesus, washing the feet, was an act of humility. We need to do the same – humbling ourselves to serve others. We need to do it to all within the fellowship. The way to greatness according to the Lord is to serve eachother. I need to be servant-hearted in all my daily living for Jesus.

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