Should I tell the secret?

Posted 1 April 2010 by

Today is Maundy Thursday. In the church calendar, it is marked as the institution of the Eucharist (Holy Communion) on the night before Jesus died. But, just as we see on commercials, I have to say, “Wait! There’s more!”

Cover, To Kill A Mockingbird

Cover, To Kill A Mockingbird

It is also the night many churches in the liturgical tradition wash feet.

You have seen the reference to washing feet before if you read To Kill a Mockingbird. In that case, the reference is to foot washing Baptists. There really is such a thing. The family next door to me when growing up were foot washing Baptists. I chuckled at the reference when reading this book in high school.

Meanwhile, from the Baptists to the Episcopalians. The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word for commandment, mandatum.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13.34-35 NRSV)

John 13 is where Jesus washes the Apostles’ feet. When there was a protest, Jesus said “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13.8 NRSV).

It would be easy to pass this off as John doing theology again. In this case, as “to baptize” and “to clean” are equivalent terms (yes, I know you can nit-pic this), so the verse is about baptism.

That is, until you’ve had your feet washed in public.

I’ve been the giver and the receiver on this. I tell you right now, it is much more happy to give than to receive a foot washing in public. It is easy to say I’m going to be a servant and do this act. But, do you want someone washing your feet? In public. Where everyone can see you. Your socks. Your toenails. Your smells.

Whilst in college, I went with friends to a congregation of a more Pentecostal tradition to a Sunday evening Communion service. We all called it the “First Church of the Firestone” because of its location over a tire dealer. The service started with foot washing. I didn’t have the experience to quite place it then, but I knew something was wrong when the pastor enjoyed having his feet washed by everyone there.

Later this pastor and his wife told a friend who was raped by a man sneaking into the shower of an all-female residence that she must have done something wrong or else God wouldn’t have let that happen to her. Therefore, she needed to confess whatever it was. Fortunately that act was done in private, so not to make the hurt any worse. It was the last time my friend went there.

So, just as the story of the Prodigal Son is not about the son who left but the son who stayed, washing feet is not about doing it to someone else. It is about having it done to you.

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