More Than Washing Feet

She wanted to have a foot washing ceremony. I told her she should give people warning before we do such a thing.

I know, there I was thinking about logistics and trying to make sure people were comfortable. Neither of which are bad things, but sometimes I just miss the point.

Sometimes I miss the moments that have the potential to offer us grace when we probably need it the most.

Anne Lamott writes:

Your problem is how you are going to spend this one and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.”

Fear drives me to want order and control, but fear also sometimes keeps me from tasting life.

We were in London at a church that began to feel like family. It was summer 2012. My friend began her sermon. In the middle of speaking, she pointed out how she wanted to wash people’s feet, but I told her not to. She called me out, threw me under the proverbial bus.

Never mind that she was about to tell a story about how sacrificial I was because I would wash dishes even though I hated it. The chosen illustration was instead how I told her she couldn’t do the things that Jesus himself did.

In my defense, I never said she couldn’t do it at all. Just that she needed to give some warning. That way, people would have time to prepare their feet. You know, trim toenails and wash them first. The ladies could paint their toenails. Feet can be a sensitive issue; I thought you needed to give people the option to tap out if they wanted to.

In ministry and in life, sometimes you need to admit when you were wrong. In this case, I was wrong.

Oh, how often I completely miss the point and, in turn, miss the blessing.

When God comes to you, you don’t always have time to clean yourself up first. You simply come to experience the holy moment. In an effort to be careful, I over-analyzed and missed the blessing. How often do we over-think and miss moments that could bless us and others?

I think the entire point of washing someone’s feet is to recognize that we are connected even in our brokenness and imperfections.

I have had pastors and Christian university professors who would light a candle before class or service as a reminder that the Holy Spirit is present. Yet there is something different about the Holy Spirit’s presence when one receives the Communion elements or baptism. There is something more tangible, more palpable. The Celtics call moments when heaven and earth meet “thin places.” Thin places are places where the boundary between heaven and earth are especially thin. We cannot fully explain it, but in these thin places, we sense the divine more easily.

In Prototype, Jonathan Martin writes this:

Foot washing is perhaps the most futuristic practice of the church, though not many people really believe that. Most Christians think they are being cutting edge and futuristic when they have a busy graphic presentation running on a Mac during their worship time. Removing our shoes before one another is a jarring practice even for church people–it’s like listening to a Radiohead album in the 1950s. But precisely because it is so jarring, so unnatural, so unlike the empire of illusion created by the prince of the power of the air, it is undeniably powerful.”

I have been a part of foot washing ceremonies before (some more elaborate than others), and it has always been meaningful. It has always made an impact. This past weekend I attended a wedding ceremony where the first act the couple wanted to do as a married couple was wash one another’s feet.

In London, when Pastor George blessed our feet, I will never forget how much I felt God’s presence. He wanted to anoint our feet, which I feel is similar to washing someone’s feet. It requires certain humility to allow someone else to wash your feet–to bless you by serving you. Pastor George was a retired pastor in the church; he was someone who had already spent years serving and pastoring others, but do you ever retire from serving and blessing others? He wanted to bless us as we stepped into the next phase of our journey. After spending a summer in London, we would soon be returning home.

Martin continues:

When I feel the touch of human hands on my hairy toes and calloused soles, it is terrible in all the ways it must be for Christ Himself to touch my most unlovely places with His tenderness. Every time, the tears burn my eyes. And as my self-consciousness and self-confidence begin to crumble, it’s not just my feet that are being washed; it’s the love of God like a warm balm on a bruised and battered soul.”

Foot washing requires humility: both for the person washing someone’s feet and for the person whose feet are being washed.

I wanted people to be able to prepare themselves, but even without preparation, we have it better than the feet Jesus washed. They did not have the luxury of hand sanitizer or daily showers. They had walked miles in dust and dirt. Without socks and tennis shoes, they walked miles in dust and dirt.

Peter said to Jesus just as Jesus was about to wash Peter’s feet, “You will never wash my feet.” Oh, to miss the blessing. Jesus did so much more than wash the dirt from someone’s feet. Jesus did so much more.

Washing feet is more than just the simple act of washing the dirt from someone’s feet. Our call and instruction is to follow Jesus–do for others as he has done for us. By washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus modeled for us the ultimate act of humility and servanthood. With his life, Jesus modeled for us self-giving love. Like Jesus wanted the disciples to follow his example and be servants to the world, he wants us to do the same.


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