Today I was asked a question somewhat out of left field, but one that I thought highly relevant to my examination of the culture of the Church of God. The question was: have you ever seen a minister wash the feet of a member at the Passover ceremony? The answer is–no, I haven’t. I can’t remember ever seeing that at all, if it happened in Los Angeles I do not remember it (and that is the only place where it would have happened among those areas I have attended ) and those few times where I can remember seeing ministers (and even deacons) washing feet, it was generally washing each other’s feet. I have observed Passover in such diverse areas as Southern California, Central Florida, Western Pennsylvania, and Chile since 2000, and sometimes I have even seen deacons and other ordained men go to a separate area to footwashing. Likewise, those elders who have given the message for Passover have had their bread and wine apart, facing the audience, instead of as a part of the body of brethren as a whole. Regardless of what message is meant, that sort of separation sends a message to others of a wide and impassible gulf between the laity and the ordained leadership of a congregation.
I’m interested in knowing (as a large number of my readers are members of the Church of God community) whether and to what extent that is the experience of others. Since the Passover is such an overwhelmingly symbolic experience in its historical and theological importance (lest we forget, Jesus Christ washed the feet of all of his disciples, including the one who betrayed Him to death). It would be worthwhile to examine just what is said about the footwashing in John 13:12-17: “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? You call Me Teacher and Lord, for so I am. 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. 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. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” ”
It is a tremendously humbling thing to wash someone’s feet. One cannot do it without a very real understanding of what it means to be a servant. The power of the footwashing ceremony in the Passover account of the beloved apostle John is that it is Jesus Christ washing the feet of His disciples, who spent a great deal of time squabbling about which one of them was the greatest (Matthew 20:20-28, Mark 10:35-45), showing them that greatness is serving, and if the King of Kings and Lord of Lords can wash the feet of uncoverted men, how are we not all to wash each other’s feet and show that we all serve each other. Since the symbol is in the act of service, the meaning of a minister washing the feet of a random lay member would be open and obvious to all. Such an act, which is what the Bible is discussing, would be a clear sign that there is no wide gulf between us and that we are all one body of brethren, all serving each other, as our Lord has instructed us to do.
What is true about the footwashing ceremony in particular is also true about the taking of the unleavened bread and wine, the symbol of Christ’s body broken for our sins and his blood shed to pay the death penalty as the ultimate Passover lamb. As Matthew 26:26-30: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat, this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s Kingdom.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”
Our Lord and Savior blessed the unleavened bread and wine, serving as a Priest of the Order of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18, Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:1-11), since the bread and wine served as the symbols of His body and His blood sacrificed for the remission of our sins. No minister today is a member of that eternal Priesthood of Melchizedek, without sin, able to bless the bread and the wine in the way that it was done by Jesus Christ, who alone can bless it. As the ministry belongs with the membership at large as those whose sins must be covered by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, why not make that reality plain (as well as the unity of the body) by having the ministry, instead of taking the bread and wine by themselves on the stage, joining the membership in general in taking it as part of the body.
As with the footwashing, it is the symbolic nature of the action that is important. If you act as if you were a priest of the Order of Melchizedek, acting as if you bless the bread and the wine, you will be seen as a priest, separate from the laity at large. If you, however, make it clear that Jesus Christ blesses the bread and wine because it is a symbol of His body and blood, and one sits with the membership at large and takes part of the bread and the wine with them, it is obvious that you see the church as all one body, with Christ as head, and not with you as head. The difference is not in what is said, but in what one does, and in what those symbolic actions mean. If we are all to be one body and all to recognize that we are one body, we all need to act like one body. To the extent that we do that, we will cease to act as the heathen do, but as servants of God, and it will be obvious to all, and to ourselves, that we are all one body.
 After I posted this entry, one of my friends said the following about the footwashing in Los Angeles:
“Although I haven’t witnessed this with my own eyes (I’ve never seen any Passover service), I happen to know that Jon Garnant and my dad have a bit of a standing arrangement to wash each others feet. This arrangement came to being when my dad’s foot problems (related to complications from diabetes) got bad enough that he felt compelled to ask how he should handle the foot washing. Mr. Garnant’s response was something along the lines of the fact that he’d seen a lot of things in his day (dating back to sports injuries as a young guy or I know not what) and that he would wash my dad’s feet. I don’t know exactly how bad my dad’s feet are because I make a point of *not* seeing them, let alone touching them. I’m pretty sure there’s some real humility on the part of Mr. Garnant to volunteer for such a task.”
I happen to agree that this shows humility, and figured that it had happened in Los Angeles as a result of the church culture there. Mr. Garnant is a local elder in the Eagle Rock congregation.