After a week of church almost everyday, I got pretty tired of the mandatory services. Holy Week was never a part of my denomination’s liturgy or calendar, so needless to say, I was “churched out.”
Now that I’ve had a week or two to look back and process through Holy Week, I believe God may have hidden some subtle lessons for me.
On Maundy Thursday, the passage was a church favorite: Jesus washes the feet of the disciple. Because it’s preached about quite often, I didn’t think too much of it and assumed the homily would talk about serving others. While that was one of the explored themes, that night was also different in a few ways.
First, we need to learn how to give and receive love. Most of the time, especially in fellowships/congregations I’ve been a part of, I’ve known many who constantly give their time, energy, and love. They give and give, until they “burn out.” Service, however, does not exist without receiving grace. That can look like refusing to accept someone’s offer to pay for coffee or denying another’s compliment. We paradoxically crave affirmation but frequently reject it.
Expanding on that concept, our parish in Denver did something I’ve personally never experienced before: we washed one another’s feet. Rather than simply reading the passage, as is usually done, members of the congregation were invited to participate in doing what Jesus did. We actually queued up, knelt down, and physically washed each other’s feet. I think we take for granted what Jesus did, which was expected of a servant. But unlike our 2017 feet, which with modern technology and plumbing are relatively clean, the disciples lived in sandals, sand and dirt caked onto their toes and the soles of their feet after the day’s journey, and probably smelled pretty bad. Those are the feet Jesus cleaned– twelve pairs of them.
And I was reminded of a homeless woman that usually takes the same bus I am on in the morning. The moment she walks by, a strong unpleasant scent wafts. And trust me, it smells awful to the point I try to strategically sit in a seat that effectively evades the stench. (Yes, I know, it’s a mean thing to do.)
But the question popped up in my head: what if she were the one sitting on the wooden chair, feet in the basin of water at church, and I was to wash her feet?
I’m going to be honest, I would naturally want to avoid touching them. I don’t know where her feet have been or how many days have passed without a proper shower. And yet, Jesus would have knelt down and washed her feet with as much love and care as anyone else. He would not have cared about her economic status. (He criticized the elite Pharisees and Sadducees openly.) Most of all, what he did would have be an act of true love — not because it was easy, but because he would have seen her as someone with full dignity, worthy of love.
I don’t know this woman’s story. I don’t know where she came from or what she’s been through. I don’t even know her name.
Regardless, should I put down my ego and wash her feet? Or walk past and ignore her?
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me.” – John 13:8b