Maryland church starts Easter week with Last Supper and foot-washing service


Worshippers at Grace Church wash each other's feet, including Joe Arata, 73, washing his 16-year-old grandson Kyle Coleman's feet on Palm Sunday in Lanham, Md. (Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST)

In a season when Christians observe Easter by retelling the story of Jesus, the pastor of Grace Brethren Church in Lanham used Palm Sunday to go beyond preaching about the Last Supper and the New Testament account of what took place before the crucifixion and resurrection.

On the Sunday before Easter, the men and women of the congregation split up and washed the feet of others to emulate what Jesus did on the night he was betrayed. Afterward the Rev. J. Paul Mutchler presided over a Passover feast that included the kinds of foods that Jesus and the disciples probably ate at the Last Supper.

“The washing of the feet is commanded in John 13,” Mutchler said. “He ended his teaching by washing feet as a symbol of being cleansed from our daily sins, in contrast to being cleansed for our eternal sins by his shed blood on the cross.”

In the 13th chapter of John, Jesus poured water into a basin during the Last Supper and began to wash the disciples’ feet. Although Simon Peter initially objected, Jesus told the disciples, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

Church member Randall Burr followed Jesus’s plea, washing the feet of 11-year-old Jabbar Gbadamosi. “This is a picture of the daily cleansing that each of us need because of our sins,” said Burr, a school administrator.

“It was cool that he could wash my feet, and I could wash his feet,” Jabbar said.

Lola Gbadamosi, the boy’s mother and an immigrant from Africa, experienced the moment in deeper terms. “It was a great honor. He is the head of the school [that Jabbar attends], and he washed my son’s feet.”

The week between Palm Sunday and Easter is often referred to as Holy Week, and many denominations observe Maundy Thursday by holding foot-washing services because it was the night before Jesus died on the cross, according to biblical accounts.

Gene Pinkard of Lanham compared it to the need for daily spiritual cleaning. “When we walk in this world, our feet get dirty, and in the same way we need cleaning daily from Jesus,” Pinkard said.

After the foot washing, about 100 people sat down for a meal, and several took note at how people of many races came together. One man declined to give his name or have his picture taken because he was from a Muslim country. A convert to Christianity by missionaries, he feared reproachment from his former countrymen.

As congregants ate unleavened bread, olives, carrots and sandwiches of lean meats, Mutcher told them, “I like eating family style, where we pass the food, because we can encourage each other.”

Gail Beane of Beltsville said that sharing a meal with people of various races and experiences makes the Bible feel real. “It helps me to physically relate to the family of Christ,” she said.

Jeanna Taylor, 15, who attends Grace Brethren with her mother and brother, said the Last Supper reenactment makes the event feel more authentic. “When we do this, we have a chance to converse with each other,” she said.

But Virginia Sunseri, 93, a long-time church member from Oxon Hill, said Christians shouldn’t come together only at Easter.

“The Bible tells us that we need to join together as a family to have the opportunity to be together,” she said. “This is a blessing that we all need.”

Hamil Harris is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of The Washington Post.
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