April 8 Meditation
Last week I talked about how much we have had to give up for Lent this year . . . and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I would be interested to hear or read some of your reflections on what you had to give up for Lent this year—things that were unusual to give up. So, if you would like to do so, type in a response.
Obviously, we have had to give up such things as being in a church building for worship (unless you belong to one of those irresponsible mega churches that have stubbornly refused to), visiting or receiving visits from family and friends (or at least not being able to get close to them), eating in restaurants, and just generally being out in public.
This being Holy Week, I thought of another thing many Christians are having to give up this year: the ritual practice of foot washing. Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday, and many Christians around the world engage in ritual foot washing on that day, but sadly, not this year (I assume).
This comes from the story of the last supper in John’s Gospel, where Jesus pours water into a basin and begins to wash his disciples’ feet. When it is Simon Peter’s turn, however, he objects to Jesus washing his feet. But Jesus strongly insists by telling Peter that if he doesn’t allow him to wash his feet “you have no share (or part) with me.” Peter’s response is enthusiastic: “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head.” Sounds like Peter wants a bath!
Why foot washing? Why would Jesus do that? Well, in the dirty, dusty Middle East, where people only wore sandals, people’s feet were always dirty. So, if you wanted to show extravagant hospitality for someone, you washed their feet. That was the best gift you could give someone—a coupon at the local foot washing and pedicure salon.
(By the way, be mindful of all the manicurists and pedicurists, hair stylists, and all those in the “beauty” professions who are obviously out of work for the time being. We are all going to need them when the pandemic is over!)
After Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he shared with them a “new commandment,” that they love one another. You see, foot washing was more than just symbolic of loving one another in that place and time. It was loving one another.
I assume that most of us will err on the side of caution and refrain from washing someone else’s feet on Maundy Thursday, unless it is someone with whom we are “sheltering at home.” So, maybe, as an alternative, to be in the spirit of Jesus, we can think of other ways to show people we love them (without getting near their feet). I’ll leave that to you.
Interestingly, while foot washing is “out” this year; hand washing is “in.” We are washing our own hands more than ever before. Suddenly, the memory of our moms yelling at us when we were playing in the yard, “Come inside and wash your hands! It’s time to eat” sounds like the wisest words we have ever heard.
So maybe the takeaway for my talk this morning is this: The most foot-washy thing we can do for others this year is to wash our own hands and keep a safe distance from others—six feet away from one another. The most foot-washy thing we can do is sacrifice the socially intimate act of foot washing for social distancing. For this year, at least, this is how we can show people we love them.