Have you washed anyone’s feet this week?

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day on which Jesus’ Last Supper falls. I am still struggling with my literal faith versus my belief in the metaphors, my support of the scripture if not the institutions, but one of the best parts of Easter, for me, is what happens before the Last Supper. As the story is recounted in the Gospel of John, Christ washed all his disciples’ feet, and counseled them that no one is so great that they need not serve others. To me, this defines everything that comes thereafter– the self-sacrifice undergirds what He means when he says, take, eat, and take, drink, in remembrance of Me. In remembrance of what? That the greatest can wash the dusty feet of the least. That deniers and betrayers are also worthy of forgiveness and love. That death is worth life and forgiveness for those surviving.

The church I grew up in was fairly conservative, in the old-fashioned sense– at least until my Mom joined. She and the minister were of like hearts, and he now had an ally to shake things up a bit. When I was 12, she spent a week making hummus, tabbouleh, buying pita and balava, red wine, and roasted lamb. That Maundy Thursday, a small and skeptical group of the congregation came for Supper. Mom and the minister, in their white robes and Lenten sashes and stoles, had dishpans of hot water in front of five folding chairs in the church basement. And as they herded the parishoners into these chairs, to have their feet washed, they took turns reminding people of the Passover celebration that Christians too often forget, and reminding them that in Jesus’ day, people wore sandals and walked on dirt roads, through streets with gutters instead of sewers. “And don’t forget the lepers,” they both said, almost in unison. We kids were picking at the olives and crudites as we watched more than one grouchy face soften and crumple, their eyes suspiciously sparkling. The first one to have his feet finished just stood there, in his new-washed feet– I was half worried I’d need to go find some tissues– when a homeless-looking older man walked in. “Is this the free supper?” “It is,” said the newly-washed one. “Would you like me to wash your feet? We’re honoring the Last Supper.”

There were maybe 25 of us that first year, between parishoners and the 7 folks who saw the sign at the community lunchroom. I have never felt such fellowship among strangers– at least until the next year, when 65 people came for Last Supper. Eventually, Mom stopped making all the food herself, and the cooking happened in the church kitchen, but it became a part of the community, not just the church and the two more ministers who succeeded the first. It was something they continued even after my mother fell out with the new minister, and started going elsewhere. He didn’t want to do all this “hippie stuff.” The parish overrode him that first year, and one of the Women’s Committee called my mom to ask her if she would come back and officiate. “We have 15 folding chairs and 25 washers already signed up.”

Whether you celebrate Easter or merely rejoice to be alive, may you find someone’s feet to wash as spring reminds us of the perennial possibilities of a fresh start.


15 thoughts on “Have you washed anyone’s feet this week?

  1. Janet

    Maundy Thursday was my Mom’s favorite religious holiday; she fell out with the last minister at her church, but as she’d been going there for 45 years, didn’t want to leave the church herself.

    I love this story about your Mom đŸ™‚

  2. CTJen

    I know you’ve been having trouble (if I can put it so mildly) with your mom as of late. This post is a very touching and tender story of your mother and of faith. Thank you. I need a tissue now. =) *sniffle*

  3. sassy

    What a cool post. I think it’s great that you’re able to see your mom from so many different sides, truly, the whole thing just frecking touches me.

  4. Emily

    That’s a great story. I’ve never really gotten into Easter as a holiday, but this is one aspect of it that I can respect. Thank you for sharing it – I love getting wisdom from the places I least expect to find it.

  5. cathy

    Oh wow… I love this story and the window it makes into your mother’s spirit and your own. I love that she created community with the food and her enthusiasm for this ritual.

    When I became a Catholic pretty recently (long story), I was blown away by the foot washing. I won’t be going to mass this week (long story), but I want to spend more time learning about these humble rituals.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  6. Angelina

    I love it when people really apply the teachings that Jesus brought the world. I don’t know that I believe in Jesus literally or not but I do find I am in deep agreement with his ideals and it’s gorgeous when people behave as he is said to have behaved.

    That’s a great story!

  7. Poet With a Day Job

    Holy Thursday is by far my most adored mass. Thanks for this entry: I too struggle with symbolism v total belief that it IS the body and blood…I feel that though I am Catholic, and feel very rooted (in a good way) in the traditions and celebrations, as a gay person they reject parts of me…so I MUST be able to take what I want and leave the rest, building my own sense of God while there, using the security, meditation, comfort, and community of the rituals to speak to it.

    This HT mass was especially moving for me. And Friday, Saturday and Sunday were beautiful as well.

  8. kcinnova

    This is the second time I’ve been here to read this posting* and like before, I read with tears on my cheeks. The church was never intended to be a social club –and it breaks my heart when I see some that are; the church is supposed to be a place where sinners can come together, confess, be forgiven, be Fed and Washed… then go do the same for others. This is a challenge to which we all should aspire, the real What Would Jesus Do.

    *sent by Jenn@jugglinglife and blogthismom!


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