For the last two years on Good Friday, I published a post written after I attended the afternoon Good Friday services at my church. You can read that here. This year, I am unable to attend the afternoon services, but I will attend this evening’s Tenebrae Service. A lovely, candlelit service where we wait for the mystery of the resurrection.
Last night I attended another one of my favorite services of the year, Maundy Thursday. The Maundy Thursday service is the ritual foot washing, service among those congregants who wish to participate. The service reminds us of the caring and loving example that Jesus showed his disciples when he washed their feet. This foot washing service makes some people uncomfortable. I understand. I love this ritual but it took me a bit to become accustomed to it. Even the apostle Peter felt uncomfortable having Jesus wash his feet.
I sat in the pews with Juan and listened to the sermon in preparation of the foot washing, when I heard the rector say something which kind of startled me. He said, participation was greater than belief. He explained that one could be “religious” and believe in the mystery of the cross and the resurrection, but that was not greater than participation. He went on to say that Jesus gave us an example of participation when he washed his disciples feet, when he broke bread and served wine to the apostles during his Passover meal. Jesus gave us an example of participation when he did all of this on the last night he was alive, and when he told his followers to, “love one another as I loved you.”
I sat in the pew, moved by the prayers, the hyms, the dimly lit church and I watched as others in around me got up from the pews to have their feet washed and wash each others feet. Juan leaned over and said, “I want to be like Peter. I don’t feel like getting my feet washed.” I smiled at him and nodded. I understood how Juan, and maybe Peter felt.
This year Holy Week arrived before I was ready. I didn’t have a chance to get a pedicure. My toe nail polish was a mess, my feet were callused. I really didn’t want to wash anyone else’s feet either. Then, I thought about the photo I had seen earlier in the day. The photo of Pope Francis washing a woman’s feet and kissing them. So humble. So loving. How must that woman have felt?
Juan and I left our pew and walked to the foot washing station. I knelt before another parishioner who was seated before a basin. I introduced myself to her and one of the acolytes brought me a jug of warm water and a clean towel. I knelt down before the woman and poured the water over her delicate feet. I rinsed them, using my hands. I thought about what it meant to participate in this religious ritual. What it meant to be a servant, and care for others the way Jesus demonstrated to us. When I was done I dried her feet and we switched places. The acolyte brought us clean water, a dry towel, and an empty basin. She washed my feet, gently, carefully. It seemed to take forever. All the while I was aware of how uncomfortable I felt. Sure, I get pedicures, but this was so different. I could tell by the care she took to wash my feet that she was doing this out of love.
Perhaps that’s why the particpation part of religion is so important. I could have sat in the pew and prayed, sang hyms and gazed at the beauty of my surroundings. I could have looked on as everyone else particpated in the foot washing. I might have stood by while everyone else experienced love and demonstrated love. But, I woud have missed out on fully experiencing the most important message of day and Jesus’ lesson to us all, “love one another.”