Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Washing Feet


"AS I HAVE DONE FOR YOU."  Off and on over the years, I have participated in the Maundy Thursday liturgy at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Breckenridge, Colorado.  Typically, the little church is half-full and it is likely a quarter of us are out-of-towners.  No matter.  Not used to the turnings, citings and readings of formal liturgy, we may fumble our way through the service.  The part in which I feel particularly connected is the foot washing. The liturgy invites us to do for another what Jesus did for his disciples that night of their last meal together.  After the pastoral team, we are invited to wash each other's feet at the front of the sanctuary.  During the foot washing, the congregation sings:

Brother, sister, let me serve you,
Let me be as Christ to you;
Pray that I might have the grace to
Let you be my servant, too.

HOMELESS NEIGHBORS' FEET.  The radical humiliation of washing another's feet first struck me in 1989, when a nurse asked me to help with the foot soaks and foot massages she weekly offered the homeless men who visited Horizon House.  I initially volunteered to assist, but when the hour came, I found myself strangely resistant and made excuses not to be available to wash their feet.  The next week, Nurse Anne wouldn't let me off the hook.  I found myself kneeling before the dirty, gnarly, swollen, smelly feet of a homeless man.  Still resistant but yielded, I gave myself to the task, pushing inner protests aside.  One after another, I washed and massaged feet until there were no more feet to wash.  I felt relieved and released and somehow strangely at peace.  From that point on, I have always viewed people without homes as neighbors, recognizing and accepting my connection, complicity, and challenge in their condition.

LEADING PARADIGM.  During my 2,000-mile bicycle ride through India in 2007, we were honored in Bangalore by foot washing.  The Free Methodist Bishops of India knelt down and washed each cyclist's feet in front of all their pastors, parishioners, and non-christian friends and community members who gathered to welcome us to that city (we, in turn, washed their feet).  Knowing the strong sense of caste and social role that pervade the various Indian cultures, I can only begin to imagine the radical--even offensive--action of a leader washing anyone's feet.  But this is likely close to the context of Jesus' action on what we now call Maundy Thursday.  He is the servant leader and this is the primary image for Christian leadership.  The towel and basin stands alongside the cross.  Those who dismiss or stray from this central paradigm mislead.

IT'S NOT ABOUT FEET.  I have not fully identified the points of my resistance to wash either the feet of homeless neighbors in homeless center or the feet of a friend in a Holy Week foot-washing liturgy. I'm not nearly as interested in analyzing my resistance as in simply recognizing it and overcoming it. It's really not about foot washing, anyway.  It's about doing the necessary, menial, and helpful things for one another without reference to "who's who," social role, or fear. I want to continue to move in that direction in my life, breaking resistances and hesitancies and excuses with helpful actions for whomever they are needed.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
www.indybikehiker.com
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker
indybikehiker@gmail.com

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