So….how many of you are uncomfortable with the idea of someone else washing your feet? Or washing someone else’s?
For some people there is an “ick” factor. After all, feet can be ugly or smelly….they may be swollen, or have bunions or deformed toenails. A lot of us have feet like that. But even if they aren’t, for most of us, there is just something so awkward…so vulnerable…so intimate…about touching someone else’s feet…or having them touch ours, that we would just rather not. But…this is exactly what Jesus commands his disciples …commands us…to do in the gospel we read today. Wash feet.
Aching, tired feet.
We know that for many of us, our feet take the brunt of the day….how many of you have had jobs where you were on your feet all day? By the end of the day, the dogs are barking, as they say. They are tired and sore. If they were cooped up in shoes, they’re probably sweaty and stinky. And if you wore sandals all day, a pair of chacos or flip flops, then they’re dirty and cracked and dry. In Jesus’ day…everyone had those dry cracked feet at the end of the day from walking on dusty roads in sandaled or bare feet. And bathing wasn’t something folks did every day, it was more of a weekly occurrence for the Sabbath…but people did sometimes wash their feet when they came home for the evening. If you were wealthy enough to have servants or slaves, then it was their job…almost always a woman servant or slave. And if you were a married man in your own home – then your wife or daughter might do it for you. But otherwise, you took care of it yourself — cleaning off the day’s dirt, and rubbing oil into them to heal the damage of the day.
Here’s the plain fact — Real men did not wash each other’s feet. I just wasn’t done. And under no circumstances would they have washed a woman’s feet…or a servants’ feet…or a follower’s feet. It was an act of humility.
But Jesus washes their feet. Their teacher…the one they follow, their Lord…strips down, wraps a towel around them as servants would do and kneels before them and takes their cracked feet caked with dirt into his hands and gently washes them. They didn’t get a warning….they didn’t get a chance to wash them first. I’ve been a part of foot washings at churches before, where clearly everyone washed their feet just before coming. No…these feet had all the “ick” factors in place…and Jesus washed them. And likely massaged them with oil to repair the day’s wear and tear.
And it was uncomfortable and awkward. And then Jesus tells them…they should do the same for one another. We should do the same for one another.
This is the last night Jesus was with his friends. And he is wanting them to know how they should go on after he is gone. And it looks like this…it looks like intimacy and humility and tenderness. It looks like caring for one another…even for those who are in the wrong…even for those on the side of evil….even for Judas who would betray Jesus. What does it mean to be people of faith in the world? It means getting over ourselves…getting over our “ick” factors…getting over our egos…getting over our moral high ground…getting over our agendas and simply doing what we can to care for our neighbors in the midst of the wear and tear and exhaustion of their daily lives.
I’ve been horrified, honestly, by the anti-trans and anti-gay laws in the news recently. I’ve been horrified by the bombing of hospitals and schools. And I am particularly appalled by the fact that there are actually people who are justifying both these acts as ‘Christian’. They’re not. I assure you, they are not. Basically…whenever you hear defiant and militant ‘christian’ rhetoric righteously defending societal norms or national aims of any kind …you know that these folks are not actually following Christ. For Christ kneels. Christ loves. Christ serves.
This week, our committees and council will gather and we will talk about who we are as a church in our community. What is our witness? How do we bring Christ to our community? To our neighbors? To one another? And the question really is…how are we doing washing one another’s feet? How are we doing, following in Jesus’ footsteps, gently caring for the banged up bruises life has delivered to so many folks? How are we doing soothing them and healing their pain?
Some of the photos we saw earlier are from church ministries…churches that hold foot clinics for the homeless….washing feet, applying lotion, clipping toenails and offering clean socks. They are washing feet, literally. But there are other ways we can push past our comfort zone to serve those in need. To show Jesus’ love for one another. To offer a safe place…a place to be heard and seen. A place where we are valued as a child of God, and treated with respect, instead of pity or charity.
For that is what it means to be the church. To bring grace. To serve. To love. To comfort and to heal. And we do it, because that is the work of Jesus…It is what we have received. We do it, because we have received grace. Because we have been served. We have been loved, comforted, and healed by Jesus.
One person, reflecting on this story, simply said, as a Christian, “footwashing is life”. Washing feet calls one to serve; and having one’s feet washed calls one to be vulnerable, to let go, to surrender. It is a way of entering each other, of knowing each other, of sharing each other. It is everything that it is to be truly human.
May we be truly human together. Vulnerable. And kind. May we receive mercy…and show mercy. May we wash feet. Maybe even literally….for all those who cannot do it for themselves. But may we be willing to serve and love in Jesus’ name. Amen.