Yesterday, as some of you know, was Maundy Thursday. So what’s so Maundy about it? Maundy Thursday, of course, commemorates Jesus’ last supper, the feast of Passover with his disciples. More importantly, Maundy Thursday is the beginning of the holy days leading up to Christian Easter. On Maundy Thursday, Church bells are silenced until Easter. Most importantly, however, Maundy Thursday has the most interesting name out of all the Christian days with names.
Maundy Thursday involves some overlooked traditions that I personally find very interesting and important. Maundy Thursday represents, in fact, the Day of Universal Foot-Washing. The term Maundy has its origins in the Latin name for this holy day, “dies mandatum” or “day of commandment.” On this day, Jesus’ final commandment to the disciples, at least according to John (and we can all admit John was a little out there) was: “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (The Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson Inc., New York, 1972). Interestingly enough, at this particular Seder, the foot washing was done naked. Jesus is described as wiping the disciples’ feet “with the towel wherewith he was girded.” Does this mean what it seems to mean? Or was nakedness not as big an issue with Jesus as it was with Noah? As Jesus went through and washed the disciples feet in turn, Peter decided he would rather no have his feet washed by Jesus (what was Peter thinking?). This telling precursor to Peter’s three later renunciations made the savior very angry. He insisted to Peter that “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” Simon Peter then wanted Jesus to wash his head, hands, and feet. Like me, Jesus felt that that was a little excessive. According to Jesus, washing one’s feet was the pinnacle of cleanliness. In fact, Jesus felt that “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean in every whit.” Finally, after Jesus “had taken his garments and was set down again” he explained to his presumably confused disciples what he had just done. The ceremony of the washing of the feet represents the assumption of a humble role — the Christian ideal of the master becoming like the servant, the powerful like the weak.
So let me recap. On the very first Maundy Thursday, according to the Gospel according to John, Jesus washed all of his disciples’ feet naked. He washed just their feet, and only their feet, and when he was done, he returned to the table and finished his dinner. So help me God.
The biblical story of Maundy Thursday has spawned some other interesting traditions. In the spirit of Jesus, it became a tradition for the English royalty to wash the feet of the poor and give out gifts on Maundy Thursday. A “Maundy” came to represent any gift-giving on the Thursday before Easter by the King or Queen. But those old-time English prudes forgot to take their clothes off, which is weird, because King James didn’t leave that part out of his famous book on the subject.
But if the British were a little bit confused, the Germans are completely befuddled. The German translation of Maundy Thursday is Grundonnerstag, literally “Green Thursday.”
Therefore, on Maundy Thursday many Germans eat green food, like green salad, green eggs, green beer, green soup, you name it. This strange tradition arose because the Germans forgot their own language. “Grun” is, in origin, a corruption of “greinen,” to weep. The day was meant to be a festival of mourning for the betrayal of Jesus. Instead it has become Germany’s St. Patrick’s Day.
For my own part, I’d like to go ahead and sort of agree with Jesus. In biblical times the feet would have been exposed to weeks of dirt and filth. In modern times, however, the invention of comfortable tennis shoes has solved this problem. Therefore I have liberally reinterpreted the scripture for the modern day. I maintain a tradition of only washing my hair once a month, most often naked unless I’m in a hurry. I think this is more than sufficient to keep me clean. The natural oils residing on my head grow strong when not interfered with by soap and learn to clean my head on their own. Furthermore, I am able to maintain a stylish hair-do without having to resort to expensive or complicated gel’s or sprays. I’m sure that’s what Jesus was getting at.
Andrew Smeall has the cleanest feet on Old Campus.