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The practice of washing feet…

April 1, 2010

Maundy Thursday/Good Friday Service
Text: John 13:1-17

There’s no way around it…washing the feet of another human being can be just a bit awkward.  Especially if you are newer to this practice.  In a day of vibey church cafes and artsy gathering spaces with sofas and technological whatsits….  In a day when every attempt is made to make church appealing to the “spiritual but not religious”…    In this day, we gather once again to practice footwashing.

Why?  What compels us to continue in this practice we have inherited from radical 16th century Anabaptism?  Is there a treasure that needs to be cherished in this community practice?  Why can’t we just develop a footwashing application for Facebook or something…

Maybe that’s just it.  In a world of virtual reality, perhaps there is grace in a practice that helps keep our faith grounded in the physical.  Water basins, towels, human hands and feet remind us that God’s grace comes to us through the stuff of earth.  The God of scripture loves working in the medium of  matter–water, dirt, burning bushes, plagues, wombs, stars, bread, wine, crosses, humans…

Our common worship and everyday living involve many physical practices which help us pay attention to God. We bring our bodies to worship.  We read scripture.  We eat bread and drink from a cup.  We rebuild houses after earthquakes and floods.  We make quilts and prayer shawls.  We put paint on canvas for Lenten worship.  We wash feet.  Just to mention a few.

The practice of washing feet helps us remember that being the church is a communal reality.  Sometimes we might think it would just be easier to be a part of “the invisible church.”  We will be Christians, but not worship at any particular church.  We like Jesus, but aren’t thrilled with this or that aspect of church.   The practice of washing feet helps us remember that Jesus has a body complete with hands and feet.  This practice teaches us to recognize the face of Jesus in the person washing our feet, in the person whose feet we wash.

The practice of washing feet helps us cultivate an attitude of humility in our relationships with each other.  Jesus calls us away from table arguments over who is greatest—who is right—to the practice of washing feet.  This is good training for serving neighbors and enemies also.

Which points to the politics of footwashing…

When we take off our shoes we become known on the basis of our common humanity—our ordinary feet.  I wash your feet and you wash mine no matter how expensive or tattered the clothes we wear, no matter what kind of car we drive or if we have a car at all, no matter how valuable the work we do or if we have a job at all, no matter how educated we are or how simple we are.  I take off the shoes which are a marker of my social, economic and political status.  I become vulnerable.  I become like a barefoot kid.

When I am willing to do this, I receive a wonderful gift of grace.  I see that my feet are not so different than your feet.  They are gnarled and calloused…they are smooth and beautiful.  I am not judged for the imperfections of my feet or my story.

We began the Lenten journey with the physical practice of smudged ashes on skin–a reminder that we are dust and will return to dust.  On this Maundy Thursday, we come to the basin of water to wash the dust off of each other’s feet on the way to the cross.  May the grace of Jesus Christ be present among us as we serve one another in this way.

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