A Maundy Thursday Handwashing and Table Service


Handwashing is an ancient human gesture embedded in daily practice. It can now be a matter of life and death during a time of contagion. We need literal as well as spiritual cleansing in these times. Holy Week scriptures offer us a story of compulsive washing, and a narrative of compassionate cleansing. Pilot, politician of an empire, publicly washes his hands, attempting to shed his responsibility for protecting the innocent.  He attempts to wash his hands of the whole affair.  In contrast, Jesus in the privacy of a home, takes a towel and washes the feet of his friends. That washing immerses them in his ministry, cleanses and empowers them to “do this” for others in memory of him.


These two stories of washings invite us to baptismal renewal in this week and lead us to a Table. Jesus gathers his friends for a meal when life as they know it is ending. That Supper is a meal of memory and hope: the people pass over, from death to life, from slavery to a promise of freedom.  It is a meal of wonderous love and amazing grace, first offered in a home and then as the church expanded, in sanctuaries.  This can be a time to return to home as a sanctuary again.


There is a tradition of handwashing in preparation for sharing in a sacred meal. Psalm 26 was once used sung by those who gathered in Jerusalem. Centuries later it was recited by priests preparing to preside in the sacrament of the bread of life.  They would pray these words in silence while preparing by washing their hands.


I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O Lord, singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds. O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides. Do not sweep me away with sinners, nor my life with the bloodthirsty, those in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes. Psalm 26: 6-10


These ancient words include the washing, the coming to the altar, songs of praise, and testimonies to God’s redemptive work. There is a plea for personal safety and a fierce call for justice, all connected to washing and the sacrament of holy communion.


There is also another Table, the Love Feast, where Christians have gathered to celebrate the presence of Jesus, our brother, savior, friend in testimony, song, praise and praise. A Love Feast traditionally includes a foot washing (hand washing in this service), the greeting of peace; confession of sin, expressions of faith, and praise through songs and testimony.


This service of washing and the Table offer us hospitality and reconciliation with God and with each other.  A Love Feast can deepen our understanding of Holy Communion if the choice is to “fast” until the community can gather together again. United Methodists pastors should take this opportunity to share This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion with their congregations.  If we cannot gather to celebrate Holy Communion in sanctuaries as in the past, this table service offers washing and a sacred meal at home.


However, sharing on-line communion in homes with a pastor/presider could also be our Wesleyan heritage, particularly given the development of the itineracy as pastoral care in times of great need. Pastors need to keep informed to what their bishop is advising, especially as some bishops have revised their request for a moratorium. The bishops in the Western Jurisdiction write: “Especially in this time of physical separation from one another, Holy Communion can be a conduit of God’s healing power. We remain open to what God is teaching us in this moment. We believe in the importance of being community, present together at the Table of our Lord, repentant of our sin and seeking to live in peace with one another.” see http://www.calpacumc.org/news/western-jurisdiction-bishops-offer-guidance-for-the-observance-of-holy-communion.


There are conduits and channels of grace through live-streaming, Zoom, or phone. Printed materials for this service can be mailed or emailed to members.  One essential reminder for any service at home at this time: one person can be a household, sheltering in place. Some liturgical settings are suggested, but a kitchen sink, a candle, towel, table, water, oil, and food are the only things required. This service is designed to be a spiritual exercise for one individual, or two or three gathered together, as well as a pastor connected to others via digital means.





Maundy Thursday Hand Washing and Table


Begin the service by lighting candles as the words are read.


L: Blessed are you Holy One, our God, Creator of the universe.

You form light and create darkness, make peace, and give life to all things. Isaiah 45:7


Welcome (those at home or/and on-line)


Song or reading 


Prayer for Purity

Almighty God,

to you all hearts are open, all desires known,

and from you no secrets are hidden

Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts

by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit

that we may perfectly love you

and worthily magnify your name,

through Christ our Lord.  Amen.


Silent Reflection


Song of Assurance of God’s Love


Pilate’s Basin

This can be an antique pitcher with basin on a small table or a pitcher at the kitchen sink. The water is warm. There is scented soap with good hand towels, one for each participant. Children can help by handing out the towels. These words are said, “Remember, only Christ can wash away our sin.” One person pours the water as each in turn washes their hands. The Doxology or a song of praise can be sung during the washing and drying of hands.


Baptismal Renewal Basin

After this washing, move to a second pitcher and bowl at one end of the dining table. The pitcher/container could be clear glass and hold anointing oil or plain olive oil. The words are: “Remember, you are baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit.” An individual will say, “Remember, I am baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit.” After the oil is poured into each person’s palms held over the basin, they touch their own forehead, their heart, or smooth the oil into their hands saying, “Thanks be to God”.


The Servant’s Basin

The third pitcher and basin should be well-used, and the towels should be kitchen towels. The water in this pitcher is cold. Water is poured into your open hands with the words, “Do this in memory of the One who did this for you.”  The individual would say, “I do this in memory of the One who did this for me.” The group response is, “I will remember.” You are invited to use the towel as napkin and a symbol of service.


If it’s a service of Holy Communion, the on-line presider/pastor can begin the Great Thanksgiving, leading the prayers while those at home are at table with individual cups and bread. Using an ordinary coffee cup for communion can “altar/alter” its meaning by lifting up the commonplace for holy use.  The Epiclesis, prayer for the Spirit may be prayed in union with the presider.  This is the prayer of those baptized by water and the Spirit; its language is plural; it binds the whole body of Christ into service.


L: Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here,

and on these gifts of bread and wine.


Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ,

  that we may be for the world the body of Christ,

  redeemed by his blood.


By your Spirit make us one with Christ,

  one with each other,

  and one in ministry to all the world,

  until Christ comes in final victory,

  and we feast at his heavenly banquet.


If the Table is a Love Feast celebrating Christ and the priesthood of all believers, the food that you find comforting should be shared. A reading from scripture or the Covenant Service can be done before eating. The sharing of recipes and stories, along with favorite table graces follows. Invite those present to respond to the question: “What does it mean to me to serve Christ?”


Christ has many services to be done.

Some are easier and more honorable,

others are more difficult and disgraceful.

Some are suitable to our inclination and interests,

others are contrary to both.

In some we may please Christ and please ourselves.

But then there are other works where we cannot please Christ

except by denying ourselves.

It is necessary, therefore,

that we consider what it means to be servant of Christ.[i]


“Directions for Using a Towel” can be used as meditation on the meaning of the hand towel or as a closing reading before the benediction.


Directions for Using a Towel


To be used for:

Drying dishes.

Wiping eyes.

Mopping spilled milk.

Coping with sighs.

Cleaning stains.

Creating scandal.

Holding on when it’s too hot to handle.


Washing feet.

Softening jars.

Binding wounds in a world of scars.


Better than Bounty, thin as skin.

Don’t give it up, or throw it in;

It simply grows more holy over time.


For when the One

that death could not defeat


the towel will be our sign.

All grave and dusty sins are washed away.

God takes us by the hand and helps us rise.[ii]


Table Fellowship




[i] Wesley Covenant Prayer adapted by Heather Murray Elkins ©2002 The Holy Stuff of Life, all rights reserved.

[ii] Ibid.


[i] Wesley Covenant Prayer adapted by Heather Murray Elkins ©2002 The Holy Stuff of Life, all rights reserved.

[ii] Ibid.