This evening, we did the now traditional practice in the Episcopal Church on Maundy Thursday of washing the feet. The idea is to recall the moment in John's gospel where the night before Jesus is killed he takes the role of the servant and washes the feet of his disciples as a way of illustrating what they are to do for each other... and all others.
Often times, there are only a smattering of people who will participate in this ritual. There's some kind of aversion to touching feet... especially feet that have been closed in often stinky shoes.
This isn't just an issue for church-going Christians. Lots of times, clients will express sheepishness to me about not having had time to bathe and clean their feet prior to a massage. For those who are just too embarrassed, I will offer that I can wash their feet for them.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm very sure."
Much of what I do as a massage therapist feels like the washing of the feet, or the woman who anoints Jesus with the nard. I am always rubbing shea butter in my hands and applying it to the muscles of a client who puts their trust in me to make them feel better. It is a special kind of servant ministry where I get to engage in healing. That's different than when I was in the role of servant as a public radio reporter. Holding a microphone, I had access to the state's powerful people where I could ask them the uncomfortable questions. And I would take that same microphone into places where I would give voice to the otherwise voiceless, allowing them to make their case for justice for migrant farm workers and inmates on death row.
Washing feet in a church in the 21st century is nothing like the scene with Jesus in that to get feet clean in Jesus' time would take some doing. If the people weren't walking around barefoot, then they would have been wearing sandals and their feet would be getting very dusty and dirty. For Jesus to wash these feet, he'd likely have been at it for more than a few minutes to make them spic n' span. But that's the kind of scrubbing job he had come to do. His was to remove the sins of the world and by doing so he also demonstrated to his disciples what their calling is to be: to carry on in this same way. And to love one another as he has loved them... as evidenced by carefully cleaning the part of their body caked and covered in the muck of the world.
With the foot washing this evening, the gift we have given each other is to prepare our feet to carry us forward into the world again... and take another step closer to the arrival at the cross on Good Friday. Walk in Love.