Some Meanings of the
Passover and Footwashing
Jack M. LaneIs there more to Passover services than just the bread and wine and footwashing? Read here about a dimension of the Passover you may not have fully known before!
Passover is the time of year, ordained in scripture for all time, when we memorialize the death of our Messiah. We realize that the Lamb of God was slain for the sins of all mankind -- not just to cover over sin, as the animal sacrifices did (Hebrews 9:7-9; 10:3-4, 11), but to actually absolve humankind of all blood-guiltiness (Hebrews 9:11-14), opening the way of salvation to all who have ever lived (Hebrews 2:10; 5:9)!
For those of our readers who have the same background as we do, let me take you back to your first Passover service with the Worldwide Church of God (WCG). Think back to the first time you went to Passover. What went on during the service?
When you first went into the meeting hall, what did you see? You probably saw a smaller congregation than usual, as only baptized members were there. The children, the unbaptized mates, those who were new and had not yet been baptized -- all those people were missing. (You might also have noticed that a few people were there you had never met before! Where were they the rest of the year?)
You also noticed that people were sitting quietly instead of boisterously talking and visiting as they usually did. This was a solemn service, like a funeral. It was, after all, a memorial service. If you had just lost a friend or family member in death, the memorial service for them would be somber and sad. So it was that the WCG Passover service was performed as if it was a funeral, rather than the most tremendously uplifting part of all of the Messiah's earthly ministry! Just before His arrest and trial, knowing what lay ahead, Messiah was able to say, "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33)!
But when you attended your first Passover with WCG, you saw people quietly reading their Bibles, praying, meditating, holding their hand towels (or foot towels, in this case), and you quietly followed suit.
When the service began, some scriptures were read, then the people were dismissed to the footwashing ceremony. After everyone was back from that, more scriptures were read, and the unleavened bread was prayed over and broken into small pieces, which was then distributed among the people. More scriptures were read and expounded. The wine was blessed and distributed, followed by more scripture reading and explanations. Finally, the congregation sang a hymn, and everyone went home.
That was it. That was the sum total of the physical, surface aspects of the Passover service. That's what someone might see if they happened to walk into a WCG Passover service in progress some years back. And, unfortunately, the emphasis in our religious life back then was more on the physical than on the spiritual, so that may be about as deeply as many of the people experienced Passover -- just the physical aspects of footwashing, bread and wine.
Is That All There Is?
But is there more to it than that? Is there more to the Passover than just the step one, step two, and step three just described? You bet there is! There's another whole dimension to the Passover service.
Before we arrived, with Bible, bucket and towel, we were supposed to have prepared ourselves, through study, prayer, meditation and fasting, examining ourselves, and getting close to God.
We were told to examine ourselves to make sure we weren't taking the Passover unworthily. Unfortunately, this teaching led to two erroneous assumptions: (1) some people thought they were unworthy to take the Passover, simply because they had not completely overcome sin in their lives; and (2) the implication was that we did not need to examine ourselves throughout the year, but only in the weeks leading up to Passover. Both assumptions were wrong. We must examine ourselves daily to root out sin, throughout the year, and if there is still some human nature left in us, we are definitely the ones who need to take the Passover!
In Matthew 5:48 we are told to become perfect (or mature, or complete), like the Father. The Father is our "gold standard." We shouldn't be comparing ourselves with each other; that would give us a false understanding. If we instead compare ourselves to our Father to see how well we're doing -- if we see how perfect, or mature, we are compared to God -- well, we certainly do fall short, don't we?
So, when we examine ourselves, we need to determine what's hindering us from becoming perfect; we need to identify problems in our lives -- secret sins, areas where we still need work, with God's help and each other's -- so we can isolate those problems and eliminate them. But this needs to be an on-going process, every week of every year, not just once before Passover.
Then, once we are truly prepared, we can come to the Passover and be ready, not just for the physical aspects of the service, but for what we might call (borrowing and modifying a phrase from a movie) a "close encounter of the God kind."
Passover And Baptism
We often heard in WCG that when we took the bread and wine, we were renewing our baptism covenant. That sounds like a good idea, but it's not really a biblical teaching. This concept also tended to limit Passover to baptized members of that organization. However, we have been coming across more and more people around the country and around the world who have had their children in attendance at their home Passover, not simply observing, but participating -- eating the bread, drinking the wine, and washing feet! We have heard reports from all over that this was the most significant Passover ever, because the children were involved!
There are some who have come to see that their children ought to be present for Passover, while others still believe that only baptized members of the assembly should attend. This is an area that needs more clarification in order to understand God's will, but our purpose today isn't to discuss that issue, but the deeper significance of Passover and footwashing.
Whether or not we view taking the Passover as renewing our baptismal covenant, we should note that Passover and baptism are inseparably intertwined in scripture. In Romans chapter 6 we read that we are baptized into Messiah's death. When we arise out of the water of baptism, we are picturing the resurrection. In our daily Christian lives, then, as newly baptized babes in Christ, we should have been a "walking Passover" right from the start.
Baptism has not become unnecessary, nor have any of our concepts about baptism changed. We should remember that baptism and the Passover both picture Christ's sacrifice and our part in God's Family. But the idea that we are renewing our baptismal vows at Passover doesn't appear to be biblical.
The Close Encounter
We could say that when we take the Passover, when we take part in the symbols the Messiah ordained, in a yielded, converted, repentant attitude, then, in a manner of speaking, we are touching God!
This is not talking about transubstantiation, a doctrine of the Catholic tradition that says that, through the ceremony of the Mass, or Eucharist, their communion bread and wine actually become changed into Yeshua's literal body and blood.
We don't believe the substance of the bread and wine actually changes (hence the idea of "trans-substance," or literally "changing a substance across"). If such were the case, people would then be able to reach out and take Messiah for themselves, no matter how unworthily. If that were the case, people would have power and control over God's gift of salvation! It doesn't make any sense if every unconverted heathen who decides to go to the Mass (or is compelled by force, as shown throughout history) can eat the bread and drink the wine unworthily, not understanding the body and blood of the Lord! They would eat and drink damnation to themselves (1 Corinthians 11:27-29)! That is certainly not God's purpose!
But if transubstantiation is not what takes place, what really happens? Just the opposite! Through the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we have become changed, so God can take us to Himself, and we become the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 4:12)!
God's in charge. He reaches out and does the taking. If we are Christ's, He lives within us (John 14:20, 23; Galatians 2:20). It's not the bread that changes into the Body -- we do!
We take the bread, accepting the broken body of our Messiah to forgive our sins and to heal our physical bodies (John 1:29; 1 Peter 2:24). We take the blood to accept the sacrifice that He endured, pouring out His blood for us to wipe away our foolish sins and mistaken behaviors, so we can someday actually become perfect, mature, complete, like the Father (Matthew 26:28).
When we wash someone's feet, we're following Yeshua's example of humility and service (John 13:1-17). In Philippians 2:5-8 we read that, although He was equal with God, He took on the form of a servant -- He became a nobody, like you and me -- and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross. This is the mind and attitude of Messiah that we are supposed to have -- taking on the form of a servant!
Yeshua, the Teacher and Master, the Messiah, the Son of God, became subservient to His students, and performed the lowliest slave task -- He washed their feet -- to set us an example that we should follow, so that after we symbolically practice on one another, we will go out from the Passover service, ready to serve, not only each other, but the masses of humanity we will someday be teaching and ruling.
And when we allow someone to wash our feet, we learn that if someone wishes to show Christian love and the "give" way of life toward us, we must allow them to do it, for their own personal growth as well as ours. We also need to learn the lesson that, while it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), it is also blessed to allow others to give.
A Deeper Level of Understanding
These are some of the deeper meanings of the symbols of the Passover. And yet, there is a deeper meaning still.
Someone might say, "I know Jesus washed the disciples' feet. But who washed Jesus' feet? I read John 13, so I know Jesus went around washing everyone else's feet. Who washed His?"
In Luke 7:36-50, we read about the time when our Lord went to dinner at a Pharisee's house. During dinner, a sinful woman from the community came in and stood behind Him, at His feet, weeping.
There might be a slight problem in picturing this scene. How could the woman stand behind Him, at His feet? To get a better picture in mind, we need to remember that, in the oriental culture of that time and place, the table was low to the ground, and the dinner guests would recline on their sides on low divans, with their heads pointed toward the table and their feet pointed away from the table. That's how this woman was able to stand behind Yeshua, at His feet, weeping. That's also how, during the "Last Supper," John was able to lean back and rest his head on Yeshua's bosom (John 13:23-25). The familiar painting of "The Last Supper," with everyone sitting at a tall table in straight back chairs, simply doesn't convey a picture of the scene as it actually took place!
But here, in the Pharisee's house, the woman began to weep, and then, of all things, she began to wash Messiah's feet with her tears and wipe His feet with her hair! Then she kissed His feet and anointed them with a fragrant oil.
The Pharisee, watching this spectacle, could hardly contain himself. "Why, if this man was truly a prophet, he would know what kind of woman she is -- a sinner!" But Messiah showed that He not only knew what she was, but also what she was becoming, because of her deep repentance and strong desire for forgiveness. He told the Pharisee a story about a creditor who freely forgives his debtors, both the one with a great debt and the one with a small debt. No doubt, the Pharisee got the point of the story.
Another important point is found in Luke 18:9-14. Jesus told a parable to people who were self-righteous and who looked down on others. He spoke about a hypocritical Pharisee who stood in the Temple, puffing himself up before God, making sure God didn't overlook any of the many "holy" things this man had done. Meanwhile, over to the side, standing afar off, was a meek, humble man, who wouldn't even raise his eyes up to heaven, but prayed, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." Messiah said it was the repentant, humble man who went home justified rather than the pompous one.
Who washed Yeshua's feet at the Pharisee's house? A repentant sinner.
Who went home justified? A repentant sinner.
Who washes our Savior's feet at the Passover?
When we forsake our old lives in the world, and humbly, repentantly approach the throne of grace and receive forgiveness through the Messiah's shed blood, then go on to live according to God's teachings and His ways, do we not become the servants of the Messiah?
In Romans 6:16, we read that we are the servants of whoever it is we obey. Aren't we the servants of Yeshua Messiah, Whom we obey? And don't our Father and Yeshua, through the Holy Spirit, live within us -- and in the person whose feet we are washing?
Whose feet did you wash at the Passover?
In Matthew 25:40, Messiah said that if we do something -- anything, either good or bad -- to the least of His brethren -- we've done it to Him.
When we come to the Passover service because of our commitment, our voluntary enslavement, don't we symbolically, if not literally, wash the feet of the Master's as we wash each other's?
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:12 that if we think we stand we had better take heed, lest we fall. If we properly understand the sacrifice of God's Passover Lamb, and the true meaning of the Passover rituals, we won't fall.
God doesn't want us to fall. He wants us to escape the things that are coming and to stand before the Son of man (Luke 21:36). He's begun a good work in us and will see it through until the day of Yeshua the Messiah (Philippians 1:6).
God wants us to succeed. He wants us there, in the resurrection, with Him. Let's grow in the faith and learn all we can about this Way of life, and be able to stand in the day of the resurrection on our own two feet, because He has washed ours, and we have washed His!