McALISTERVILLE - During the last supper, Jesus shared more than just a meal with his disciples.
His acts of washing the disciples' feet and sharing Communion are important rituals that have been passed down through the church for almost 2,000 years.
In Bunkertown, the Rev. Greg Jones is preparing for the church's annual Upper Room Service on Palm Sunday, March 28, when the congregation will gather for a time of Holy Communion and footwashing, in remembrance of Jesus' final meal on Earth. Also known as an agape (Greek for "love") feast, the tradition dates back to the early Christian Church.
For 300 years, Church of the Brethren congregations have returned to the events of Jesus' last supper. The practice grew out of the Protestant Reformation when the faithful believed it was not enough to have Christ in your heart - "we have to live what we preach," Jones said.
Jones told the story of the Last Supper this way: Jesus and his disciples gathered for the Passover meal in the upper room of a Jerusalem house. Some Gospel accounts say the disciples argued about who was the most important and who would sit next to Jesus in Heaven.
"In John's account, Jesus is listening to the whole power play going on, then he walks to a basin and starts washing people's feet," Jones said.
Historically, foot washing was the job of a servant, a young person or someone of low status, Jones said. But the apostles were so busy arguing that no one stooped to wash the others' feet, he said.
Then, Jesus, the master, bent over to serve the rest, he said.
"It makes them stop in their tracks. Jesus was showing them that to truly be his followers they must have a sense of humility."
Out of that story, the Church of the Brethren began the practice "as a reminder that Christians are called to serve quietly and with humbleness," Jones said.
There is just something about human touch, he added. A society saturated by facebook and Myspace is starving for physical contact, and footwashing makes people feel valued by both God and their brothers and sisters, Jones said.
During the Upper Room service, the men and women will separate to wash each other's feet, Jones said. Christians are welcome to participate or watch, he said, noting that the service is not to be taken lightly. The Upper Room service is set for 7 p.m. March 28 at the church, on state Route 35, near McAlisterville.
Through footwashing, Jesus also explained an important principle: You can't love God and hate your brother or sister, Jones said. Washing another's feet is about that love through Jesus for a brother or sister, he said.
At the same time, there is often nothing more humbling than bearing one's own feet for someone else to wash, Jones said.
Peter, however, did not understand this at first. He told Christ, "You're never going to wash my feet."
Jesus replied, "Unless I wash you, you have no part of me."
"Then wash all of me," Peter said.
"You've already been washed," Jesus replied.
Jones explains the situation this way: Christ probably was not talking about being defiled by sin. Peter's sins would be washed by Jesus' blood sacrificed on the cross; but despite this forgiveness and rebirth, Peter - like all Christians - would still sin.
Jones believes footwashing is not salvation, but it recognizes that even Christians still become soiled by sin.
While only Christ can get rid of sin, he no longer walks on Earth to wash feet, Jones said. So, he accomplishes his work through his servants - "this is where it gets beautiful," he said. "Every time I kneel, I allow Christ to work through me. I'm just the instrument ..."
"It reminds us that, in God's sight, everyone needs loving attention, and everyone can offer that service to others," according to the Church of the Brethren Web site, www.brethren.org. "Love has no need to prove status or position; love simply gives-and keeps on giving."
The early Church practiced the act of footwashing, and in the 300s the issue became controversial when believers could not agree if the act had sacramental value like baptism, according to an article from ChristianHistory.net.
Many Christian traditions still practice footwashing today. Pope Pius XXII restored it to popular practice in the Catholic Church in 1955, and Protestant traditions vary widely on if and when they began footwashing.
Fellowship also is an important part of the agape feast, Jones said.
"There is something profound about sitting around a table and eating with someone," Jones said. "It builds community."
Also like the Passover meal shared by Jesus and the disciples, the agape feast includes Holy Communion.
Prior to the service, the congregation prepares by reflecting on their relationship with Christ, Jones said.
The Eucharist, like footwashing, is a serious, reflective act that no one should take lightly, Jones said. Without self-examination and dedication to Christ, these acts mean nothing, he said.
While these rituals are important, Jones believes the acts should be more than just what a believer does.
"The attitude of the heart is more important than the method," Jones said. "Sometimes we Christians elevate the method above the meaning."
The pastor emphasized that the Upper Room service is a time to remember Christ's love for his people and the love Christians should have for each other.
"We live in a dark, thirsty world. The church is a place of life and hope," Jones said.