It is Maundy Thursday, and I sometimes wish that we too, in The Christian Community, would hold a footwashing service like so many other congregations do. But then I think, oh no, I don’t really want my feet to be naked in church. And I think of my community, and I am pretty sure that would be the sentiment of many others. We just don’t do that. Cultural habit? Or what?
Today I read an article by a minister/blogger* who also pointed out that the footwashing that happens in so many churches today is actually pretty tame. Who shows up to those evening gatherings without having already washed their own feet? This is pretty different than the original footwashing, when the Master put on an apron and got a basin and jug and got to the business of washing the feet of his students which actually were likely to have been covered in all sorts of worldly dirt and grime and shit (literally). Walking through Jerusalem in sandals? Quite the dirty business.
He also pointed out that to really “have our feet washed” would mean something a little more jarring–like bringing something to church that felt truly dirty or had our shame tied up in it and showing it to God and our neighbors. He suggested bringing our laptops. An interesting–if maybe terrifying thought. More importantly though, I find it interesting that I would not want anyone to wash my feet. Why? Jesus seemed to think it so important that he did it on his last evening, when he also celebrated with them the holy supper, the act of communion with them which could be carried into the far future.
6 So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” 8 Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” 9 Simon Peter *said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.”
12 So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.
The feet have something important about them, something more than being grimy from the world. What are the feet for the human being?
The feet take us where we need to go, as in Roethke’s poem: “I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow; I learn by going where I have to go.” They develop in the womb already at seven weeks, and are full-fledged with all their little toes by the eleventh week. With our heels And toes we dig in and learn to stand up, which makes it possible to begin to speak and to think. They are our instruments for going our way, for touching the earth, for finding our life. Manfred Schmidt-Brabant said: We are human beings only when we find ourselves on the way.
On Wednesday of Holy Week, Mary Magdalene falls at Christ’s feet and pours out a years’ wages worth of precious nard oil on his feet to prepare him for his impending death. On his feet! What a show of love for these feet which have carried Christ Jesus through the Holy Land, up and down and back and forth. He walked for us and with us and to us. She consecrates them for their last journey, to the Cross, and perhaps also for next chapter on the way of Christ.
For us to walk with Christ means to come into movement, to set out on a path and follow him on his way. The early Christians did not call themselves “Christians,” but Those on the Way. Christ says in the Gospel of John: I AM the way, the truth and the life. (John 14). The activity of saying I AM in each of us is how we engage ourselves on the way.
Perhaps that Christ washed the feet of his Disciples not only as an act of deepest love, his being willing to serve those below him, but also as an act of teaching them to purify and support their own willingness to go a new way, and to support each other, that each commit to serving the other who strives to walk a path that leads to truth and fuller life. And perhaps also he gives them a reminder to tend to those humble servants who set themselves underneath us each day without complaint and take us where we need to go.
*Thanks to Roger Wolsey and his blog on Patheos, “The Holy Kiss”. Read his full article here