Before I get too deep here – a joke for you to keep in mind as you read this post. What’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist?
You can negotiate with a terrorist.
“You will never wash my feet.”
How long must those words have hung in the air? Peter, Jesus’ most petulant disciple, again springs into the limelight on Maundy Thursday as once more he directly challenges the will of his teacher and friend. The first disciple to name Jesus as the Messiah, you would think he might be more willing to go along with what Jesus asks of him, but for whatever reason, Peter is constantly fighting with Jesus like my four year-old fights with me.
Jesus is undeterred. Here is the line in the sand. “Foot washing is a part of this discipleship thing, and unless I wash your feet, you will have no part with me.” This is, to be very clear, a non-negotiable. Jesus is modeling for his disciples, which includes us, what it means to be a servant leader. “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.”
“I don’t really like washing feet.”
“It doesn’t mean what it did in the first century.”
Of late, some clergy have taken on the role of Peter when it comes to Maundy Thursday, choosing to skip the foot washing (n.b. I know it is an optional rite) or somewhat inexplicably choosing to wash hands instead of feet (Honestly, just take the rubrically allowed path and don’t do it at all). As I reflect on my own discomfort with feet, with touching feet, and with slathering on hand sanitizer, but still feeling like I’m celebrating the Eucharist with feet covered hands, I know, in my heart of hearts, that I’d rather not do it. Like Peter, I’d like to say, “I’ll never wash feet,” but Jesus didn’t let Peter get away with it, and I doubt if he’ll let me either.
The very fact that the washing of feet is so awkward and strange is the reason we should do it. Ignoring for a moment that Jesus said, “do as I have done for you,” every Episcopal Church in the land should be washing feet tonight because it is a part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Discipleship calls us out of our comfort zones, it asks us to talk to our neighbors about Jesus, to get up early on Sunday and come to worship, to donate time during the week to serve our neighbors, to give sacrificially of our money for the Kingdom, and it is all summed up in one terrifically uncomfortable act on Maundy Thursday. When we wash feet, we take our part with Jesus who shows us what it means to walk the hard road to redemption.