Thursday, April 6, 2023

Maundy Thursday, and some thoughts about washing feet

Maundy Thursday

The imagery of washing one another's feet is especially strong this evening as I witnessed my wife washing an elderly friend's feet during a Maundy Thursday service a few hours ago.

As I ponder Jesus' final week before his death on the Cross, and the particular incident recorded in the Gospel when Jesus washed his disciples' feet, I can't help but reflect (again) on the death of my parents 12 years ago, for they both in their own ways showed Jesus to me. 

On the morning my father passed away, my mother, my sister and I had the opportunity to wipe my father's body in one of the most meaningful rituals I have ever experienced. I remember gently wiping his feet with a warm towel. It was probably something he wouldn't have allowed us to do while he was alive. The feet that carried the weight of seven tumultuous decades -- rough, calloused, grey-haired, wrinkly -- now seemed so incredibly frail. We knew he was no longer here, but yet the act of washing his feet gave me an overwhelming sense of closure, acceptance, and gratitude. Time moved slowly. It was a sacred, purifying moment in which I was the one being cleansed.

Less than a year later, my mother was spending her last weeks confined to a hospital bed, her feet swollen from the effects of failing cancer treatments. My sister and I spent countless hours massaging those aching, pale round feet; my hands still remember the sensation of them. Those long afternoons by her bed felt dreadful, the silence sometimes painful, but we endured them largely by taking turns rubbing and washing her feet. As an adult son, initially it took courage to even touch the feet of my own mother... it was perhaps the first time since early childhood to experience that kind of physical proximity. I realized then that it was me, the one washing and massaging her feet, that needed to become vulnerable in her presence. In doing so, in her dying moments, the act of washing brought me closer to my mother in unexpected ways. It gave her children an opportunity to be present to her without saying anything, and serving her in the most basic and intimate way. It was a way in which my my sister and I were brought together, in community and in devotion.

Exposing one's feet -- arguably the dirtiest, ugliest, roughest, most utilitarian and overused part of the body -- takes courage. Touching those of another, and allowing them to be touched and washed, takes even more courage. Today, I am struck by the wisdom in Jesus' commandment and action in washing the feet of others as a way to break barriers, form the basis of community, and be transformed.

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