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Cover image: “Jesus Washes an Apostle’s Feet” by Laurie Olsen Lisonbee.
We’ve all seen it depicted in movies or described in books: A character learns they will die soon, perhaps within 24 hours. Some of them take a lavish trip, eat to their heart’s content, run up their credit card bill, get that final revenge, or knock a few things off their thrill-seeking bucket list. Worldly pleasures top the world’s list.
And perhaps you’ve even wondered how you would live if you knew today was your last on this earth. Many of us would reach out to loved ones, perhaps bid a few goodbyes.
But would you do as Christ did, and wash your associates’ feet? As Easter approaches, this is an appropriate time to study how Christ spent that day. Howard W. Hunter said, “As the final hours of his earthly mission came upon him, Jesus turned away from the multitudes and sought only to strengthen his disciples. He warned them of what lay ahead. He spoke of Jerusalem’s destruction and of the distress and apostasy that would precede his latter-day return to the earth.” He introduced the Sacrament. “Thus Jesus taught his disciples to watch and pray; however, he taught them that prayerful watching does not require sleepless anxiety and preoccupation with the future, but rather the quiet, steady attention to present duties.” (April 1974 General Conference Address: His Final Hours)
If you recall, even as his disciples ate at that Last Supper, they had “a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.” (Luke 22:24).
And then, in a stunning act of compassion and priesthood example they didn’t even understand yet, the Lamb of God washed their feet in that upper chamber of the Last Supper. Archbishop Fulton Sheen insightfully observes, “How few there are who ever fight for the towel.”
When Jesus came back to the Passover table, he said, “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” (John 13:13-17)
The image of the Messiah kneeling to wash the dusty feet of his disciples is the ultimate depiction of humility and service. It’s the exact opposite of what Satan wants us to seek in mortality: pride and selfishness. Christ knew every temptation we would face, and knew exactly which two things would most continue to trip us up. And in that one, magnificent moment, his actions thundered through the centuries to follow, a lesson for all mankind in selflessness and charity.
Incredibly, Judas did not waver from his evil plan, even after such stunning evidence of the Lord’s love. Christ foretold his betrayal, then after Judas left, Jesus gave the remaining disciples the famous instruction, “That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34.)
As Easter approaches we study Christ’s final moments upon the earth, and are stunned at his majesty, his unending love, his ability to willingly give himself in atoning sacrifice for every one of us.
But the washing of the feet is a singular image that seems to linger, perhaps because it’s actually something we could do, unlike his suffering in Gethsemane or his crucifixion. In fact, it’s not only something he could do, but something he told us to repeat. (John 13:14). How can we figuratively do as he did?
Perhaps it’s a matter of remembering him always, as we covenant to do when we take the Sacrament. I wish I could constantly be in that frame of mind, to only give humbly, completely forgetting my own wants. When we can manage to do it, when we sacrifice our time to Home Teach and Visit Teach with absolute love, we feel brimming with joy—you’d think that alone would motivate us to stay on track. But we waver. We succumb to weariness and temptations. Then we muster the strength to have charity again, to fill a portion of our day with selfless service. And so it goes, ebbing flowing, as each of us attempts the sublime again.
But maybe this Easter, we can remember the washing of the disciples’ feet, and realize that humility and service are the best ways we could possibly spend our last day, or any day.
Hilton’s new LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.