Thursday, April 05, 2007

Holy Thursday shock

We're gathering this Holy Thursday, to
remember and to celebrate that sacred meal
which Jesus has given to us. But there is also
something else he gave us that night, according
to John's gospel - a job.

That's why we are doing a foot-washing ritual
as part of our Holy Thursday service. This
will be the first time this has been done in
quite a while, so I am sure there is anxiety
on everyone's part, including mine. Part
of it has to do with the fact we will be asked
to 'expose' a part of our bodies which is
normally not seen in public, except on the
beach or at the pool in the summer.

The other has to do, I think, with the fact
that we are doing something that has no
'reality' in our lives. Oh, we've washed a
baby's feet or our kids' feet when they are
in the bath; we wash the mud of the paws
of our dogs; and, if we are athletic, we
know to take good care of our feet.

In Jesus' day, and in the life of the early church,
people were accustomed to having their feet
washed, on a regular basis. Traveling over
dirt (and dusty) roads; slogging through the
mud in a downpour; using your feet as the
means of getting anywhere back then, meant
that when you arrived at your destination,
you needed to have your feet cleaned. Especially
when you went into another's home, and
particularly when you had come for a meal.
Just as parents' tell their kids, 'Go wash your
hands for supper,' back then it was to make
sure your feet were cleaned before you ate.

Of course, since the job was done by a servant,
folks rarely took note of it being done to them
and for them, by another human being. It was
just a ritual, performed by someone who was
always overlooked, just as the basin of water
and the towel probably were. Just another
part of the background to their lives.

We have those 'backgrounds' around us today.
We have those people who perform a service
for us, and we usually overlook them, don't we?
The housekeeper who comes in and takes care
of the hotel room we live in for a few days.
The custodian who goes through the church
each night, emptying the waste cans, mopping
the floors, cleaning our fingerprints off the
glass doors. The crossing guard who stands out
in every sort of weather, making sure our kids
get to school safely. The garbage collectors
who come by and pick up our trash before
we are even out of bed in the morning.

The disciples were shocked that Jesus would be
willing to do such a menial, degrading, disgusting
task as washing their feet. Just as we would be if
Jesus showed up to make our beds, clean our toilets,
empty our waste cans, dump our garbage.

Just as we would be if Jesus asked us to do
such menial, degrading, disgusting tasks
for someone else.

That's why we need to remember that Holy
Thursday is not just about sharing a sacred meal,
but about becoming a servant.

(c) 2007 Thom M. Shuman

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