Today I wrote this to my congregation:
I’ve been turning over and over in my mind the events of the Maundy Thursday service last night. It’s a highly symbolic and participatory service – from the footwashing to standing together at the communion rail, to watching as one by one, people rise from their seats to remove items from the chancel. It’s very different from other worship services.
Many times during our Lenten journey through the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life, I’ve reminded myself – any you- that it my job not to get in the way of your discomfort. For it’s at that point of discomfort that faith grows deeper.
So, every week I invited you, as uncomfortable as it may have been, to find yourself in the story.
To see yourself with the disciples at the last supper, so concerned with what others thought of them, so concerned to be acknowledged for all that they had done to serve Jesus. And then to see yourself with them, nodding off in Gethsemane, intentions so good, but unable to go the distance.
To see yourself as a member of the Sanhedrin, that religious body so concerned with maintaining the status quo that they missed the heart of Jesus’ message. Or in Pilate, knowing what is right, but giving into pressure.
Did you see yourself in the crowd or even in the soldiers who mistreated Jesus? Did you dare to ask yourself in what ways large or small, you sometimes bully or make fun of another?
It’s been an uncomfortable journey, hasn’t it?
And last night, we washed each others' feet. Now, that’s something uncomfortable in so many ways. The sheer physicality of the act – we may be so accustomed to faith as a matter of the intellect, that engaging our bodies in an act of devotion seems strange. It is an intimate act, as well, to take off one’s shoes and to touch the feet of another, to allow one’s own feet to be touched. It’s a shedding of control – for once you sit in that chair, you have no control over who will come and kneel before you and pour warm water over your feet and dry them with a towel. And it is spiritually uncomfortable, too. For I suspect that many of us are uncomfortable with the image of Jesus kneeling at our feet, serving us.
We serve him – that’s the way it should be. But footwashing reminds us that Jesus came to serve us, and only when we let him serve us do we truly dwell in his presence.
I found the experience uncomfortable myself. First, it’s uncomfortable to be the one asking you to do this! But I sat in the chair and Dan McAllister came and knelt and washed my feet. As he did, I remembered that when I asked Dan to take part in the service by reading, I invited him to be a part of the footwashing only if he was comfortable with it. But he acknowledged his discomfort and said,” If I’m in, I’m in all the way.” I thought, “what would it mean to say that to Jesus: if I’m in, I’m in all the way.”
And then I washed Deb Bailey’s feet. As I held her bare feet, I thought about how many times those feet had stood at the counter peeling potatoes or chopping onions, preparing a meal to take to Father Bill’s shelter. I thought about how her feet are feet that serve, and as I dried them I prayed that my feet might serve as hers have.
And then we came and stood, side by side, and ate the bread and shared the cup of the one who washes our feet. Some smiled. Some wept. We sang “my Lord, my Love, is crucified.” And we watched as the Lenten symbols were removed from the chancel and the cross draped in black. And then we left, in silence.