“. . . so you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
I have to cut my toenails today so that my feet are presentable for the foot washing ritual that is part of the Maundy Thursday liturgy. I always feel so awkward baring my callused heels and long white toes to my fellow parishioners so they can take them in their hands and pour water over them. There have been years when I have rushed home just before the service to pre-wash them. And still the moment of taking them out of their protective covering of shoes and socks and then handing them over into somebody else’s care makes me squirm. It’s more intimacy than I like. Who else has touched my naked feet except my mother, my lover, and the occasional doctor and masseuse? I know it was probably different in Jesus’ day, but in my world we don’t just casually hold one another’s feet.
Touching one another intimately is at the core of all our rituals. We have done a lot over the centuries to disguise and deflect the vulnerability inherent in our sacramental moments, but scratch the surface just a little and it makes itself felt. Who hasn’t cried at a marriage or a funeral? Who hasn’t been deeply moved at a baptism or an ordination? If we let ourselves really acknowledge the purpose of our liturgies, we can see they are all about opening ourselves in community at all those times when we are feeling something deeply. We are meant to meet one another without our protective covering. Our soft and woundable souls are supposed to be revealed and nurtured. This is part of being a true faith community.
The Eucharist, that other ritual that emerged from the last gathering of Jesus and his disciples before his crucifixion, is the core expression of this intimacy. We acknowledge a mystical union in the sacrament of receiving the body and blood of Christ. We are joined in a way that goes deeper than any other bond.
When Jesus gets up from having washed his disciples’ feet he asks them, “Do you know what I have done to you?” And I cannot help but read into that statement Jesus’ awareness that he has changed them. He has altered the nature of their community, and by extension ours, profoundly by his act of servant leadership. He has made us servants to one another. He has handed our naked, vulnerable beings into one another’s hands. He has made us responsible for taking care of them: cleaning them up after our arduous and tedious journeys into the world, caressing them with love, making them smell and feel good.
“I give you a new commandment,” Jesus says, “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.” Love involves intimacy. It requires being vulnerable. This is what it means to be Christ’s followers. This is Christian community.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries With others she manages a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries: Fresh Expressions Colorado