In the Old Testament the dusty and dirty conditions of the region necessitated the need for foot-washing. Although the disciples most likely would have been happy to wash Jesus' feet, they could not conceive of washing each other's feet. This was because in the society of the time foot-washing was reserved for the lowliest of menial servants. Peers did not wash one another's feet, except very rarely and as a mark of great love.
Luke points out (22:24) that they were arguing about who was the greatest of them, so that none was willing to stoop to wash feet. When Jesus moved to wash their feet, they were shocked. His actions serve also as symbolic of spiritual cleansing (vs. 6-9) and a model of Christian humility (vs. 12-17). Through this action Jesus taught the lesson of selfless service that was supremely exemplified by His death on the cross.
The foot-washing was an example, a pattern. Many groups throughout church history have practiced literal foot-washing as a church ordinance. However, present culture in many lands does not call for the need to wash dust from the feet of one's guests. Whereas the Lord's Supper was practiced by the early church, it apparently did not practice foot-washing as an ordinance in church gatherings. This passage emphasizes inner humility, not a physical rite.
A Christian widow's practice of "washing the feet of the saints" (I Tim. 5:10) speaks not of her involvement in a church ordinance but of her humble slave-like service to other believers. Not to follow the example of Jesus is to exalt oneself above Him and to live in pride. No servant is greater than his master (cf. John 12:26).
Christ washing the feet of the apostles carried an important symbolic lesson. He did it for a reason!
First the following should be clarified;
Christ did NOT do this to establish a New Testament ritual, nor did He do this to call for humility between brethren.
Christ washed the feet of the disciples and told them to do the same for others to emphasize a vitally important aspect of the New Testament.
John 13:12) So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, 'Do you know what I have done to you?
John 13:13) You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.
John 13:14) If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.
John 13:15) For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.
John 13:16) Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.
John 13:17) If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.
It is unfortunate that so many, having a physical mind set, have failed to discern the symbolism portrayed by this act of Christ.
One needs to realize the symbolism of water.
Ephesians 5:26) ..that He might sanctify and cleanse her (the church) with the washing of water by the word.
And the symbolism connected with feet.
Luke 1:79) ..To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.
Romans 10:15 ..How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace.
Ephesians 6:15) ..and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.
Hebews 12:13) ..and make straight paths for your feet.
Matthew 3:3) .. Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.
'Water' is commonly used in Scripture to represent...'the word of God'.
'Feet' are connected with what one uses to...'walk the spiritual path or way'.
The footwashing performed by Jesus Christ was a symbolic message to His disciples. The message being that we should help our fellow Christians in their Christian walk.
Matthew 25:40) .. 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'
The 'washing' concept focuses upon the idea of cleansing. This being much more than just the washing of new converts, it signifies the removal of false teaching/paradigms absorbed by long-standing Christians. The hardest aspect of growth is the removal of false perspectives. Their removal though is necessary, because otherwise these false Christian perspectives can prevent us from perceiving the true nature and teaching of God.
Although many churches do not practice foot washing today, and is not given as a commandment in the New Testament or covenent, it is a humbling experience, and I highly recommend every church to partake of this at least once, or before communion on Maundy Thursday services. It will truly broaden you're view on serving each other in the Body of Christ.
Advance Preparation for Foot Washing
Think about separating the men and the women. It used to be the custom to put men and women in separate rooms, and it still might be a good idea. If there are people in your congregation for whom feet are erotically stimulating, this isnít the way you want to find out who they are.
Choose the room. Quite often the foot-washing is done in a separate room from the rest of the worship service for logistical reasons. Remember that water will be spilled on the floor. There should be enough room that everyone can remain seated while the foot-washer moves around. The foot-washer also needs enough room to bow down, squat, sit on their haunches, stand up, and move to the next person.
You need a bowl, a pitcher, and a towel for each person doing the foot-washing. The bowl should be fairly large. Both the bowl and the pitcher should be unbreakable or expendable. If they are breakable, make sure you have spares on hand. The towel can be a plain bath towel in a drab color. A festive towel covered with cartoon characters probably wonít achieve the effect you want.
You can purchase the appropriate equipment from a religious supply house. Foot-washing services arenít very common, so you will probably have to order from the catalog or over the Internet.
The foot-washing bowls are made of plastic and have a raised center that serves as a footrest. Check to see if you need any additional equipment. If the foot-washer is an older person, which is quite often the case, they may need a stool to sit on and an assistant to move it from person to person. Or you might want to have chairs for everyone.
Who Washes Whose Feet?
Because this rite is about humble service, only the congregational leaders do the foot-washing. For instance, the pastor might wash a parishionerís foot, but no one washes the pastorís feet. If you have a really tiny church, the pastor might be the only one washing feet. Otherwise, the responsibility can be split up among the leaders. If you have several people doing the foot-washing, donít overdo it. Each person gets their feet washed only once. Only one foot gets washed per person. This is a ceremonial washing. You might be tempted to have the chairman of the board wash the feet of the board members, the pastor wash the feet of the pastoral staff, and the youth leader wash the feet of the youth, but canít you see how that misses the point? Let the highest wash the feet of the lowest, so to speak. You might want to adapt the service, especially if you have a large church, so that the senior pastor washes the feet of a half-dozen or so people who are representative of the congregation. Since a small number of people are involved, it makes for a shorter service that you can do without changing rooms.
Conducting the Service
Before the Foot-Washing...
The Actual Foot-Washing...
Someone leads the group in singing familiar hymns. This goes on for the entire duration of the foot-washing. Each person removes the footgear from one foot. It doesnít matter which foot. The foot-washer places the bowl under the personís bare foot, pours water on the foot, and dries it with the towel. The person replaces their footgear as the foot-washer moves to the next person. The foot-washing continues until everyoneís feet have been washed.
Someone reads John 13:12-17 and dismisses the people in prayer. The people return to the worship service, if it is in a different room. After the Foot-Washing The Maundy Thursday service resumes with Communion.