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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Service of footwashing

We have many ways to care for each other

Not long ago I was part of a discussion among Christian leaders on whether we could commune together. It wasn't the general question of eucharistic hospitality. It was simply whether our meeting could conclude with a communion service.

The suggestion was quite tentative, almost apologetic. We knew the official positions of our church bodies very well. But, it was argued, given the depth of our common experience shouldn't we have our own little service of reconciliation — sort of a "foretaste of the feast to come"?

It wasn't the first time a group considered celebrating the Lord's Supper as a way of recognizing that they had grown spiritually close. I've attended Lutheran meetings that almost automatically closed with that sacrament — just like automatically closing a church council meeting with the Lord's Prayer. In the old days we would have stood in a circle, joined hands and sung Blest Be the Tie That Binds.

In this case some members of the retreat group said they wouldn't feel excluded if the others wished to share communion, but they could not participate. Their understanding of communion involved more than personal goodwill toward their neighbors.

Then someone suggested an alternative. Why not conclude with a service of footwashing? Jesus told his disciples to wash one another's feet, and he set the example on the night of the Last Supper. The footwashing was a kind of preparation for the supper to follow. By washing one another's feet, we could signify our care for each other even though we could not yet commune together. After the predictable joking about smelly feet and cold water, we agreed to try it, and it was a powerful experience.

During Lent this year, congregations are being urged to spend time talking about worship. What makes a particular worship practice meaningful or not helpful to you? Like those of us who talked about communion, you may be led to deeper ways of expressing your faith.


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