This is an update of a post I did a couple of years ago.
Tonight is Maundy Thursday. If you want to come, our church's service begins at 7 pm and includes childcare. In our tradition, it is the night we remember the Last Supper, Jesus' new commandment (Maundy comes from the Latin “mandatum,” as in "mandate"), and his betrayal by Judas Iscariot. One of the highlights of the service is the footwashing.
In some churches, the priest washes everyone's feet. In our church, the priest washes a couple of people's feet, someone washes the priest's feet, and then we turn it over to the rest of the congregation. People come up and wash each other’s feet in basins while worship music plays. Sometimes people choose to wash the feet of their friend or spouse or child. Other times, people wash stranger’s feet.
Each and every year, I take off my shoes and go through with it. Sometimes I want to, other times I don't. That’s the thing about being a priest, you have to go through with the liturgy no matter what is going on internally.
Two years ago, I had a strange situation. I had come down with a bad rash. The doctor thought it was a reaction to poison ivy, so she had given me some medicine that morning. In any case, my feet were bad off. My right foot was especially infected. I won't get into the details, but think "open sores". Gross!
So, rather than expose my nasty foot, I kept my shoes on. I didn't explain it to anyone, I didn't make a big deal out of it. I just left my shoes on, and when the time came, I stepped forward and washed two or three people's feet. I then went back to my seat while other people came forward.
While it’s true that my feet were gross, and I probably shouldn't have put them in water that others were going to have to share (double gross), there was probably something else going on. My feet might symbolize my inner self. They are diseased, they have nasty sores. At the same time, they are not entirely infected. The majority of my skin was in good shape. They are generally a fine pair of feet, they work well, and they look about as nice as any feet look.
But I still don’t like people to look at them. I want to keep my shoes on, my socks on. I don't want people to stare at them, and especially not touch them. I don't want my feet involved with other people’s feet. It is kind of like that with my inner self as well.
That night as I sat there I began thinking "I wonder if someone is going to notice that my shoes are on. I wonder if someone is going to come over and say 'Thomas, I see that no one washed your feet, may I wash them for you?'" I started to feel like someone should come over, like someone should ask to see my feet, to take care of me. I probably would have said "no" (because my feet were, once again, really gross), but I wanted it to happen.
And, of course, that leads straight to self-pity. The feeling that others should be watching out for me is a way I can see myself as the center of the universe.
The truth is, it is my responsibility to take off my own shoes. It is my responsibility to walk over and ask someone to wash my nasty feet. If I don't accept my responsibility, I go to self-pity and self-centeredness. When I feel that my self-centeredness has been violated, this leads me to anger and resentment. And resentment leads me into self-destructive behavior, guilt, and shame. And that is bondage. I'm don’t want to live in bondage. I want freedom. So, I have to ask for what I need. I must be responsible for my own exposure.
Over the past couple of years, I have grown a great deal in my ability to metaphorically “take off my shoes and have others wash my feet.” I have stepped further into self-exposure and openness than I ever imagined possible. And I am thankful to the Lord for growing me in this way. So, tonight, when it comes time to take off my shoes, I will not hesitate. I will gladly wash and be washed, as I am glad for this every day of my life.