Series: Easter: This Changes Everything
Preacher: Japhet De Oliveira
Reflection: Sam Millen
Live Wonder: Bec Reid
Live Adventure: Jess Lee
Live Beyond: Art Preuss
Live Purpose: Don Pate
Editor: Becky De Oliveira
Refresh: Begin with prayer. Ask for the Holy Spirit to open your heart to new understanding and for God’s character to be revealed.
Read: John 13:1-17 in the English Standard Version (ESV). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: I was told by my friend Nick, a Lutheran pastor, that our church may be preventing people from “receiving Christ” by making footwashing a prerequisite to receiving communion. He had come to our communion service to experience firsthand the ordinance of footwashing (as our Church Manual calls it). Christians who are not accustomed to washing one another’s feet before receiving communion can see this ordinance as an archaic practice, even an unnecessary barrier. I did acknowledge in our conversation that attendance often declines whenever Adventist churches serve communion (usually once a quarter—just four Sabbaths a year). Perhaps it is because we practice footwashing. This makes me sad.
I also noted the fact that Pastor Nick not taking John 13:14–15 literally was ironic. This is because Lutherans accept other statements made by Jesus at the Last Supper as very literal, including: “This is my body, which is broken for you” (1 Corinthians 11:24). They are convinced Christ’s “real presence” is found in the bread and wine, and therefore believe they are receiving Christ when they receive Communion. Most Adventists, on the other hand, view the elements as symbols of Christ’s body and blood. We partake of the unleavened (unfermented) bread and unfermented wine (grape juice) to remember Christ’s sacrifice for us. Jesus also said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24,25). There have been lots of debates on these issues throughout church history, especially during the Reformation.
Virtually all Christians (including Adventists) agree that Christ gave us an extraordinary example of service and humility when He washed the feet of His disciples—not only as their rabbi, a remarkable gesture in itself, but on an infinitely greater scale. He is the creator of the universe! I’m glad we, as Adventists, take Jesus’ command given in John 13:14–15 literally, and not just symbolically. It’s one thing to discuss the meaning of what Jesus did, but enacting it allows its significance to sink into our hearts and minds even deeper. By washing their feet, Jesus demonstrated His love for the disciples (John 13:1)—the same love that led Him to the cross the very next day. The ordinance of footwashing can only enrich our experience of eating the bread and drinking the wine (grape juice).
Many Christians receive an opportunity to observe (rather than participate in) a footwashing enactment if they attend their churches on Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday. I realize that’s only enacting what Jesus did once a year (April 18 in 2019), versus once a quarter as practiced by most Adventists. But many of these same churches who commemorate the footwashing part of the Last Supper only on Maundy Thursdays celebrate communion every week (not just four times a year). Obviously, it’s not about the number of times a year we participate in one or the other, but my question is this: should footwashing to be a required practice every time we have communion? Growing up Adventist, I was given the impression it was a requirement, but apparently it has never been mandatory—only highly recommended for our benefit. Consider the following quote from one of Ellen White’s books:
Experience: Dealing Faithfully With an Interested Minister: Sabbath morning, when the church at _____ celebrated the ordinances, Brother _____ was present. He was invited to unite in the ordinance of feet washing, but said he preferred to witness it. He asked if participation in this ordinance was required before one could partake of communion, and was assured by our brethren that it was not obligatory, and that he would be welcome to the table of the Lord. This Sabbath was a most precious day to his soul; he said that he had never had a happier day in his life. (Evangelism, p. 276)
Pastor Nick did indeed participate in the ordinance of footwashing at our church and appreciated how it was done, but I wish I was aware of the above incident at the time to assure him even more strongly that footwashing has never been compulsory—and therefore, instead of a barrier, it can be seen as an opportunity.
Recalibrate: Do you perceive the ordinance of footwashing in the Adventist Church as a barrier or an opportunity?
Respond: Reflect on the most meaningful footwashing experience you have had. What made it special?
Research: If you are interested in the debates between the reformers regarding the Lord’s Supper, this series of articles is a good place to start.
Remember: “Then He poured water into a bowl and began to wash the followers’ feet. He dried them with the towel that was wrapped around Him” (John 13:5, ICB).
Sam Millen is the pastor at Anacortes Adventist Fellowship in Washington State. He his wife Angie is a schoolteacher on Orcas Island and their three children are really awesome!
Our text this week is set during the Last Supper. Jesus lovingly washes and dries the feet of His disciples. While Jesus knew this was His last supper, no one else did. Enjoy doing the simple things with your little one, washing hands together before you eat, cleaning up the mess when they are finished. For such a time as this, we are here to live love together.
Think about your teacher. What are some of some of the rules they have? What are some of the jobs they have? What is one thing you would change if you were the teacher? Do you think your teacher likes being in charge? When we think of being in charge, we often think of making people do things and making people follow the rules. Maybe we think about punishing people or telling them off if they don't do the right thing, about being the boss. When God put Jesus in charge, Jesus didn't boss His disciples or other people around or punish them. He helped them and taught them what to do by telling stories.
One of the things that my son and I enjoy doing together is playing video games. What is interesting about video games is that the “story” has already been written. The game’s developers have already predetermined how the game will end—even with different endings outcomes, the ending has already been written. Nevertheless, we, the ones who are playing the game, are the ones who keep messing things up and falling short of completing the level or game. I see the frustration in my son’s face every time he fails to complete a level.
In John 13:1-3, John tells us that Jesus already knew what the outcome was going to be when He came to earth, and yet He did not take any shortcuts or skip any levels to make it easier for Him to get to the end. There were things He still needed to teach His disciples and there was no shortcut to accomplish these tasks. In other words, Jesus still had to complete all the levels in order to get to the end. This could not have been easy by any means.
Let’s get real: Are you tempted to take shortcuts in your school work, household chores or any other activity that requires you to complete it in its entirety? Do you have a hard time doing the hard things?
Nails were hard to come by in the days of Jesus. They were expensive and rare so woodworkers more commonly used pegs. But most people don’t know something that is absolutely true—the nails that held Jesus to the cross were almost guaranteed to have been recycled. (And, when Jesus was removed from the cross it’s almost guaranteed that those same nails were used on later victims, too.) But I have a stunning idea for you about those items . . . Medicine in the world of Jesus was really primitive. People thought that carrying a locust’s egg in your pocket would cure an earache. If you carried a jackal’s tooth (taken from a dead jackal) it cured insomnia but if it was removed from a living jackal it helped to keep you awake. (Weird!) More than that, the people believed that it was OK to carry “medicine” like this on the Sabbath, those items were not considered a “Sabbath burden.” Now for the stunner- there was something that they said you could carry on the Sabbath if you needed to cure a festering wound—“the nail of one crucified.” Tell me that’s not prophetic and breathtaking.
Bec Reid is a real estate agent within her family business. She lives in Sydney, Australia, and is a part of the Wahroonga Adventist Church community.
Jess Lee is an education consultant for the New South Wales Adventist education system. She lives in Sydney, Australia, and attends Kellyville Church.
Art Preuss pastors in Massachusetts at the Springfield, Florence, and Warren Adventist churches and serves in the U. S. Air Force Reserve as a chaplain.
Don Pate is “retired” in Tennessee after decades of teaching and pastoring but is still active in speaking and creating for the Kingdom.