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The Order of the Towel

The Order of the Towel

We were summoned to the front of the church and directed to sit down and remove our flip-flops.

The room was full of people we hadn’t yet met. Eyes fixed on both of us. My husband’s mentor brought out a tub of water, kneeled down, and reached for my husband’s left foot. Then his right. Then mine.

He washed our tropical-dirt laden feet in front of the flock he had been shepherding. He and his family were leaving and our family had arrived to assume the post.

The foot washing made an obvious statement: our mentors had been there to serve. And now we were to carry on in the same way.

It was the Order of the Towel, passing from one generation to the next.

The generations date back to Jesus, who at the last supper washed all twelve disciples’ feet and said, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13:7). And, “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 also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15).

Indeed, Jesus came to serve, not to be served. Even unto death. And he calls us to do the same.

To impress that truth upon our memories, my husband’s mentor gave him a white towel, embroidered with red script, “The Order of the Towel.” It has hung on every office wall we’ve had since that day—in Japan, in the Czech Republic, in Parker, Colorado.

Today we passed on the Order of the Towel again.

As our church celebrated its second birthday, we also ordained our very first church planter who will be sent out to plant another. He has been with us one year and, Lord willing, in about six months, he and his wife will set out with a team to wash the feet of a neighboring city.

Matthew too received an embroidered towel, just as Mark did fifteen years ago. And he too will hang it in his office as a reminder that he’s there to get dirty. To wash feet. To serve.

The ordination service today was a stirring reminder: we Christians are here to serve. To kneel. To condescend. To set aside what is ours, to bear the burdens of others. How easy it is to forget! How prone I am to wander.

But if Jesus, who was God but did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but laid it aside to serve, even unto death, how much more should I? How much more willing and ready should I be to cast aside my privileges, my standing, my identity, to wash the feet of others?

My heart is full as I ponder all that God has done in our community of faith. I am overjoyed as I think about the faces and stories and burdens and joys that gather frequently to worship and break bread together. Truly, the family of Christ that God has given us is more than I ever could have asked or imagined. My prayer, though, is that I would serve them well. Wash their feet. Get low.

May you and I and all the brothers and sisters we call family be like Jesus who “laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist [and] poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet” (John 13:5).

May we—pastors and deacons and moms and kids and lay people alike—joyfully bear The Order of the Towel. For a servant is not greater than his master.

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