“You may not remember what I said today, but I hope you will remember what I now do.”
I spoke those words on October 15, 2011, which was the date of my inauguration as President of Calvin Theological Seminary. I was affirmed to this position at a CRCNA Synod interview in June of 2010, so I had a good long time to think and reflect about what it meant to be entering into the role of leadership as President.
That long time of reflection led to my focusing my text and that public moment on John 13.
The initial words of the text indicate that Jesus was “fully present” and “fully aware” of the task and the trouble that was before him in his journey to the cross. John 13:1b – “He knew that the time had come for him to leave the world and go to the Father.”
Those initial words of this text also have us look at this moment through the eyes of Jesus as he looked out to his disciples and wanted to show them one more time the full extent of his love. John 13:1c – “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.”
There would be other words Jesus spoke and there would be cries from the cross – including “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” – (Luke 23:34).
At this moment Jesus does not say more words, but takes up a towel and a water basin and begins to wash the feet of all present – including a betrayer (Judas) and a denier (Peter).
We usually think of Holy Week moments as moments for Jesus to do and for us to watch, but this Jesus as foot washer scene has Jesus turning to those gathered and to disciples like us who will gather and say “… you also should wash one another’s feet” (vs. 14).
Jesus is not providing an example for us to witness. Jesus is providing a modeling moment for us to follow. We are to wash the feet of others. Leadership in all forms and situations always includes the posture of serving to be leadership that is aligned with the heart of Jesus.
On October 15, 2011, I was led to wash the feet of a faculty member, board member, staff member and student. Since that time, I hand out a serving towel to every graduate of Calvin Theological Seminary to have us all remember that we are Called to Serve.
As we continue in this Holy Week, I reflect again on this master’s class teaching moment.
I am challenged by what Jesus said and did.
I am comforted by Jesus washing the feet of a betrayer and a denier because I am sometimes one or the other or both.
I am convicted that to be a leader – it still means we wash the feet of others. We still must stoop to serve.
May we have the courage to do so – day by day!
Written by Jul Medenblik, President Calvin Theological Seminary