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.