Tuesday, April 21, 2009
The Maundy Thursday service at our church involves a simple meal of soup and bread, some quiet songs and scripture, sharing of the bread and cup and then foot or hand washing. The washing part is kind of the culmination of the service.
It's interesting that in John's gospel, the foot washing is the centerpiece of the story--not the meal or the bread and wine. Making it the fulcrum is John's way, I suppose, of making the point about Jesus love for the disciples. That was the big news, the headline news for John. Jesus loves us and invites us in.
There were two 12 year old boys sitting at our table on Maundy Thursday. Gabe and Nick. Gabe and Nick were not shy about going back for seconds and thirds on the soup that night. They ate the bread leftover at our table from communion too. When it came time for the hand and foot washing part of the service, we were all directed that we could go to either one of the hand washing stations (there were 3 of those) or the foot washing station (just one--assuming that it wouldn't be the most popular destination of the night, I suppose). Gabe and Nick were the first out of their seats, making a beeline for the foot washing. As expected there wasn't much of a line behind them. So I watched as they luxuriated in the bathing of their feet--considering that these were 12 year old boys' feet I imagined they might have real dirt on them, they might even have that stinky athletic sour-milk smell. However, the woman washing feet washed theirs gently, lovingly...thoroughly...channelling Jesus as best any of us could.
I was envious of these boys--their lack of foot shame. There's a lot of foot shame in our society. A lot of it among women, but maybe men have it to some degree too. There's a popular video on youtube all about Katie Couric having ugly feet. And recently, I ran across a blistering article about celebrity Lara Flynn Boyle who walked the red carpet barefoot, and her feet were declared horribly ugly, one toe way longer than the others, "sticking out there like it belonged to a whole other person’s foot." And Boyle was admonished by the blogger that she desperately needed a pedicure. Pedicures are on the rise—up over 20%, rising in popularity even among men.
I can only speak for myself, but sometimes I think the way I feel about my feet, my shame about exposing them in all their calloused, mis-shapened, cracked skin, blistered ugliness, is actually how I feel about the rest of me on some deep level. I'm mis-shapen, cracked, calloused and ugly underneath it all and not sure I want anyone to get close enough to see that.
So footwashing seems to be the perfect way for God to get right to the heart of the matter. It isn’t about getting you cleaned up and presentable, it’s about being included, loved for who you are.
Ok so I didn't go for the footwashing that night--just the hands. But Gabe and Nick, they went for all the gusto. After they finished with their feet, they headed over to one of the hand washing stations. I think if they'd been offered full body scrubs they would have been the first (and possibly the only) ones in line for that too. They would have said with Peter, "Not just my feet Lord, wash my hands and head too."