“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him…When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” – John 13:3-5;12-14
Just yesterday I was wondering how differently we behold the Lord’s supper and the footwashing. Both were instituted on Jesus’ last night. Both were commanded by our Lord – in John he tells them 3 times to wash each others’ feet and in Luke he tells them once to take the cup and once to take the bread in remembrance of him. Even with Paul’s echo about Eucharist, that’s still only equal to the number of times Jesus told his disciples to wash each other’s feet. So why do churches the world over celebrate the Eucharist as a sacrament on a regular basis, while foot washing is so rare? I want to say that it is because food is universal and footwashing was context-specific, but if I’m honest, I think it is easier to share a meal than the messy areas of our lives.
We’ve been blessed these months to share fellowship with some great communities of believers. At our mission home, we share prayer requests and food. At our Bible study, we even discuss how we can live in closer communion with each other, meeting the needs of one another. We began by talking about our own needs, but ended by listing what we were able to do for others. That is much less vulnerable. I though to myself how my house was getting messy, so messy that I was planning to hire a maid to help clean it before we moved out. I wasn’t proud of the mess, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get on top of it. I even woke up at 5 am one morning when my father planned a visit, and cleaned for an hour beforehand, and I still felt like he was disappointed in the mess. I mentioned to two of the ladies that house cleaning could be a real need for me, but within an hour I firmly decided that the maid was a better way to go. We had a bit of money now, anyway, and I really didn’t want anyone to see the caked-on grime in the kitchen and bathroom.
Our friends visited yesterday. Friends who were our neighbors and mentors, who we love talking and laughing with. They taught us how to live in Malawi, and we would share fresh-baked bread and pastries and go on trips together. I would come over when she was sick and she would listen when we were having life crises and he would offer Greg advice on teaching. We love seeing the. And I cleaned up the house before they came, Greg tidied up too. But I was still a bit embarrassed that it wasn’t perfect. But when I came home yesterday, after they left, the house was perfect. The kitchen sparkled, the bathroom gleamed, and everything was organized, even my teas and condiments. Greg said that he and his friend walked and talked while she cleaned the house. “I love cleaning” she exclaimed. I was embarrassed. She saw and emptied my bathroom trash can, my teacup with weeks of stains piled up from cup after cup of tea, and she somehow got the crusted grime out of the stove. She scrubbed the toilet and bath and handled the pajamas I draped over the chair as I rushed out to work. If we had any secrets from this couple before, I definitely had none now. But when I walked home, I felt like I had a fresh start in life, I felt like I could breathe in my own space, and I felt so loved.
I think that is modern foot-washing. Both the vulnerability to let other people in and the willingness to reach into the messy dirtiness of others. If only we as a people of God could do that in remembrance of Jesus just as often as we take the Lord’s supper. Oh what a people we would be.