Our youngest daughter was born the Thursday before Easter two years ago. Even though our family has never been especially serious about observing all the significant days of the Lenten season, I was mindful that the day she was born is known as Maundy Thursday. Among other things the Church considers on this day, it’s historically recognized as the day Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.
We get the word “Maundy” from the word Mandatum, found in the Latin translation of John 13:34-35:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (ESV)
Something about going into labor on that particular day was especially sobering. And as I walked into the hospital knowing I was about to be induced, the thought of my holy, perfect Savior on the ground, washing the dirty feet of sinners moved my heart beyond words. The excitement of welcoming our baby girl was muted by a deepened awareness that I was entering into something similar to what Jesus did as he lovingly knelt before the men he had led for a few years.
“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” John 13:3-5 NASB
He knelt, even while knowing that he was about to suffer and die a torturous death.
What was childbirth then, if not an act of service? I was setting aside my outer garment like Jesus, laying down my life, and laboring for the child that I was ready to welcome into the world. I was about to love like Jesus in a way I had never considered before.
Childbirth is pain and humiliation. It is messy and there are intervals of darkness. Even if you’re surrounded by a loving husband and women who have gone through it before, in that moment, you’re the only one experiencing the pain. No matter what method you give birth or welcome your child into your arms, it is trial and sacrifice – but it is also love and reward.
And it seemed to me on that Maundy Thursday, Jesus had given me a clear picture in his word that though he was a man, he had still been where I was. I held passages fresh in my mind from Isaiah and the Gospels, reminding me that Jesus knew my fears and pain and suffering.
Like the Good Shepherd he was, he had walked this road ahead of me and even now, he was walking with me through labor. After a difficult 12 hours, I held my baby daughter in my tired arms and knew the inexpressible joy of looking into her eyes and welcoming this tiny soul that I had labored over.
For us, Christ Jesus faced the ultimate service and sacrifice. He truly bore our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4), and he endured it all for the joy that was set before him (Hebrews 12:2). And it is because of his suffering, death, and resurrection that God the Father welcomes you and me into his family.
Every single act of service really requires courage because it means laying down our lives in some way. Whether it’s childbirth or some other expression of love, as disciples of Jesus, when we lay down our lives, when we open our hearts and humble ourselves for one another, we look to the love and service of Christ. He is always faithful to teach us and equip us with the courage to follow him and to serve and welcome one another as he has welcomed us (Romans 15:7). And as we walk in the everlasting welcome of God, as his beloved children, we carry with us his faithful promise that he will be with us always, to the very end.
Bethany Barendregt is a wife, mom of five, and one of the founders of Women Encouraged. She cohosts the WE podcast and loves writing on what God is teaching her about being faithful, finding joy, and living in the welcome of Christ. You can connect with her through the Women Encouraged community on Facebook and on Instagram @womenencouraged and @bethanybarendregt. She also writes at her blog Joy Lives Here.