Last night at our Holy Thursday service, we experienced the opportunity to reflect on Jesus washing his disciples’ feet as described in John 13.  Have you ever participated in a foot washing ceremony as either the one washing or the one being washed?  The truth is that most of us are pretty squeamish about having someone else wash their feet.  We have a lot of concerns about what our feet look like, and let’s be honest, touching someone else’s feet, in our culture, feels very personal!

We’re not so different from Peter.  He wanted nothing to do with his master washing his feet.  In his culture, that just wasn’t done!  Yet Jesus tells him he can have no share with him unless he is willing to let Jesus wash his feet.  In other words, being washed by Jesus is to choose to participate in his work of revealing God’s saving love to others. Peter quickly changed his mind, and invited Jesus to also wash his head and hands.  But Jesus indicates that all of that is not necessary.  Peter needs only to have his feet washed to know that Jesus, whom the disciples always called Teacher and Lord, is acting as a servant.

The first time I experienced a foot washing was at a three-day spiritual retreat weekend in which I was on my feet serving others for the first 2 ½ days.  At one point the leaders of the retreat called us together and invited us to sit and rest our weary bodies, and they washed our feet.  I cannot begin to describe the love I felt coming from the leaders as they washed and dried our aching feet! I felt so restored that I was easily able to get back on my feet to complete the weekend with energy, joy, and love for all who were there.

The next time I experienced a foot washing, I was the one washing other people’s feet. I don’t really know what their experience was, but my own experience was that in the process of washing their feet, I felt love pouring out of me that could only have come from God. They were no longer the people I knew and talked to regularly; each one became for me a person whom God had created and loved and cherished and forgiven. And in that moment, each became beautiful in my eyes!

Foot washing moments are usually a bit awkward for people, even Peter, who knew Jesus well.  They are also moments of deep connection and love.  While we may not ever participate in an actual foot washing, really serving people can also sometimes be awkward, either for them, for us, or for both.  Those moments can also be moments of deep connection and love.

After Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he gave them this new commandment:  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13: 34 NRSV).  This is the invitation and commandment we, too, are given as his disciples today. 

Where can I be a servant?  What actions might I take that will demonstrate my deepest love for those around me?  How can I show others how much God loves them? 

Barbara Moore

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