"Loving Others While Sheltering in Place"
Scripture – John 13:1-17, 34-35
Sermon preached by Gregory Knox Jones
Maundy Thursday, April 9, 2020

Have you ever walked down a dirt path in sandals? The dust clings to your feet so when you enter your home – or the home of another – the first thing on your mind is to clean your feet so that you will not track the dirt inside.

First century Palestine had a few stone paths – on our spiritual pilgrimages we have walked on stones where Jesus walked – but for the most part, their roads were dirt and rock. So when a person left for work or walked to the market or visited a friend they were invariably walking on dusty paths. In that warm and arid land, dirty feet were the norm, so homeowners kept a basin of water near the door. One of the basic duties of a servant was to wash the feet of anyone who entered.

As we ponder the final week in the life of Jesus, we remember the last meal Jesus had with his twelve disciples. Etched in the minds of many of us is Leonardo da Vinci's enormous iconic painting of the Last Supper in a church in Milan. Peter, James, John, and the others, gathered with Jesus in a large upper room to eat the Passover meal together. However, no servant was present to wash their feet, so they simply took their places. While they were eating, Jesus rose, and without speaking a word, poured water into a basin and knelt in front of each disciple and washed his feet – scrubbing off the dirt and running his fingers between their toes. Perhaps it was as much of a massage as it was a washing. It was an awkward moment. It was an intimate moment. It altered the atmosphere in the room.

After washing and wiping the feet of each of the twelve, Jesus asked, "Do you understand what I have done for you?" Silence. "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."

Let that image sink in with you as it did with his disciples. No matter how wise we are, no matter what leadership qualities we exhibit, no matter our standing in the community, no matter our income, we are to serve one another and no role is to be beneath us. I like what one commentator said about this action: "The world is full of people who are standing on their dignity when they ought to be kneeling at the feet of their brothers and sisters."1

Jesus knows that for him, the clock is about to strike midnight, so he leaves them with this extraordinary event they will never forget. Then, he punctuates the moment with a new commandment. He says, "I give you a new commandment" – not a suggestion, not an option – but a mandate: "Love one another as I have loved you." It is the command every person who claims to be a follower of Jesus is to obey: We are to love as Jesus loves.

At St. George Episcopal Church in Leadville, Colorado, "On Maundy Thursday, they encourage people to leave their shoes at the door. They place tubs of warm water in the sanctuary (and in addition to washing one another's feet) they offer to apply lotion at the end. They walk an odd line between a ritual foot washing and a pedicure."

Some people take a pass on the foot washing because it makes them feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. "But when people do accept the task of washing one another's feet, a strange and beautiful magic unfolds...One year, a homeless man named Kenny attended the foot washing service. Even though he was still drinking heavily, he had started to attend church regularly."

"At the foot washing, he ended up seated next to the pastor's tiny sprite daughter, who was five years old. Some people felt anxiety because as they went around the circle, with each person washing the feet of the person next to them it meant that little Lara would wash Kenny's feet. (People) began to worry for both of them. Would she refuse to wash Kenny's feet? That would be understandable, but potentially humiliating for Kenny."

"However, when it was Lara's turn, she knelt down at Kenny's feet as if it were the most natural thing in the world. She lifted Kenny's feet into the basin of warm water, put soap on her hands, and washed his feet. Kenny laughed nervously and then began to cry. Then everyone began to cry, except Lara, who continued her work in a businesslike manner. She spread lotion on his feet with great attention, as if painting with finger paints."2

What she did was so loving, so genuine, so accepting, so healing.

Jesus said, "I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you."

What does that look like in this bizarre new environment of quarantining ourselves? How do we wash the feet of another in a time when love for another needs to be expressed by social distancing?

We call people who might be lonely or anxious. We make grocery runs for people who have weak immune systems. We make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for people who are homeless. We make protective face masks for people in nursing homes. We email or Face-time people in assisted living who are quarantined. We pray for those on the front lines and those making decisions about public safety.

Finally, we pray that these unsettling times change us for the better. We pray that once this is all over, we will have a deeper appreciation of – and a solid commitment to – humbly loving one another as Christ loves us.


  1. William Barclay, Daily Devotions with William Barclay, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), p.99.
  2. Amy Frykholm, "A Strange, Humbling Ritual," The Christian Century, March 25, 2020, p. 24-25.