Washing Feet

The Thursday before Easter has been known as Maundy Thursday. The name comes from the Latin mandatum, meaning “commandment,” from the Lord’s words in John 13:34 Mandatum novum do vobis… “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another as I have loved you.” The Lord gave this command after He washed His disciples’ feet, saying, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15).

Swedenborg wrote in the beginning of his private record of Spiritual Experiences, “the washing of the feet was also introduced by God the Messiah, and I am amazed that it is not in use among Christians….” (Spiritual Experiences 164) He notes that he has a lot to say about washing feet, and adds, “If by the mercy of God the Messiah it is allowed at its own time, these matters are to be better examined, as to whether this act is a necessity, and whether it has been commanded, like the holy supper, and thus whether it has a use” (Spiritual Experiences 165).

Though the Holy Supper receives attention with a chapter in New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine and again in True Christianity, it seems that Swedenborg does not return to the question of whether washing feet is a necessity, has been commanded, or has a use. We might conclude that it is not important for the New Church, or on the other hand, that it is left to us to better examine whether it has a use for us. We have often washed each other’s feet at Informal Holy Supper services, but not this year, and not at all at other services. Yet the practice of washing each other’s feet spiritually is necessary, commanded and useful.

Spiritually, “washing other people’s feet was a sign of neighborly love, which said, “I will not meditate on your faults.” It was also a sign of humility, which said, “I will clean away your faults like dirt” (Secrets of Heaven 3147.8). This calls to mind the teaching that people who love their neighbor “hardly even notice evil in another but pay attention instead to everything good and true in the person. When they do find anything bad or false, they put a good interpretation on it. This is a characteristic of all angels—one they acquire from the Lord, who bends everything bad toward good” (Secrets of Heaven 1079).

I pray that not only this Thursday, but all this week and all this year I can have the humility to not meditate on or notice my neighbor’s faults.