Last night was Maundy Thursday. In the Christian Tradition, of which I am a part, it is the night when we celebrate Jesus’ last night with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion on Good Friday, looking forward to Easter. It is the night Jesus shared bread and wine with his followers to deepen their memory of him. It is also the night he washed the feet of his disciples. He said he did this to set an example of servanthood for them.
Christians of many denominations all over the world attended services last evening that incorporated foot washing. At the service I attended, each person who chose to participate came to the front pew and had their feet washed in a basin by a person kneeling in front of them. When finished, the one who did the washing returned to their original seat in the congregation. The person whose feet had just been washed then turned around and knelt waiting for the next person to sit before them.
The power and implications of this experience are many for me. Not everyone chose to participate which is fine. Bearing witness and offering support is important. I’m glad, however, that I did go up. Getting to my feet (pun intended) was the only hard part. Like so much in life, getting started is half the battle.
Once I sat down in front of a radiantly smiling woman whom I did not know, I entered an experience that was full of kindness, relaxation and friendship. In fact, it felt like the whole congregation was entering a companionable meditation. It was perfect in its imperfection. The person designated to hand out the towels for drying, got distracted and my servant and I were briefly marooned. I leaned over and gave her arms a little squeeze. We smiled broadly at each other. Servanthood doesn’t always go according to plan, but we are still serving.
By the time I’d switched and was kneeling and waiting, I was looking forward to my turn. I wanted to do this for someone else. As a distinguished member of the congregation sat down in front of me, all I felt was joy. I noticed her bunion, and wondered if it gave her pain. I felt strength and sturdiness flowing from her body. I poured water over her feet from a plastic pitcher clearly conscripted from someone’s kitchen for the occasion. We worked together like we’d done this a hundred times before. I was gentle and loving, but there was also a practical, workmanlike process that didn’t take long.
Dare I say I had fun? If fun is measured by the urge, “Let’s do this again!”, then yes, I had fun. Foot washing during Maundy Thursday services is a tangible enactment of profound spiritual principles. It is a great equalizer, demonstrating the circle of serving and being served. It shows us the importance of receiving first, to better equip us to serve. We are reminded that giving and receiving can’t be separated. That each role brings equal joy and strength and that it is natural to flow back and forth between being giver and receiver. But, receive first. Let our gifts to others flow from our own hearts being filled. That’s what makes it fun.