The Wonder Of It All!
It all began with feet. Of course, there were other beginnings. There are always other beginnings, many beginnings. But every now and then I have had these visions. I don’t know what else to call them, but the language of vision seems to fit. And this one had to do with feet. It was Providence in the late 1970’s. A family friend invited us to attend the Episcopal Church downtown, Grace. Grace. Surely it was Grace’s church! I sang in the choir, in the bass section. Gregg Romatowski, the Music Director and Organist, kept the bass section in the front row across the chancel from where he sat at the console so he could keep an eye on us. I’m not sure what he thought we might do, but there we sat and stood and kneeled at all the appropriate times. During communion, we were on our knees singing an anthem while the congregation came up the steps, through the chancel to the railing for communion, and then begin the return trip to their seats, and eventually out the door marked “Exit.” The Fire Code requires the sign which really should say, “Entrance” because it is the entrance to our mission field. That’s where Jesus sends us after he has fed us with his body and blood.
I cannot remember when really, but let’s say it was Holy Week, and there I am on my knees singing. All of a sudden I found myself staring down toward the floor and seeing all these feet. Big feet, small feet, fast feet, slow feet, in shoes of all kinds. Fancy shoes, work shoes, orthopedic shoes, dress shoes, sneakers, sandals, shoes of all kinds. Each pair telling something about the person in those shoes as some were worn on the outside edge, some on the inside edge, some with bulges here, some with bulges there, some polished, some worn plain out. Just all kinds of feet of all kinds of people in all kinds of shoes going to the altar of the Lord for daily bread and then returning to their seats and finally to the mission field.
Soon I could see centuries, millennia really, of people walking to the Lord and returning to the world of mission, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year all those feet, all those different, individual and well-worn feet following Jesus wherever he goes. It was a fantastic and glorious vision of faith and hope and charity all embodied by feet.
In what one classmate of mine at seminary called a Felliniesque Scene, at the Last Supper, or the First Eucharist, in the thirteenth chapter of John, there is no mention of bread or wine. But Jesus does say, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Or, something very much like that. For instead of passing around bread and wine he disrobes, takes up a towel and a bowel of water and begins to wash feet, the disciple’s feet, our feet.
Immediately Peter, God bless him, protests: Master, I should be washing your feet. Jesus insists, No, this is what Christian leadership must look like, and unless you let me do this you will have nothing to do with me. Peter then asks for a bath head to foot. No, you have had a bath [ he was speaking of baptism that would become the initiation rite for his church], but your feet are in need of washing. For it was the custom in those days to greet dinner guests at the door and the youngest slave in the household would wash their feet, since walking around Jerusalem to visit the Temple, the place where God makes God’s name to dwell, gets your feet dusty, and hot, and tired. It was usually a child. He once said that if you want to participate in the life of God you must come to that life like a child. So here is Jesus, acting like a child slave insisting on doing something for us, his disciples. And like Peter, we may as well admit that we tend to resist this.
What Jesus is unmasking is our pride, our need to control, our need to be independent and to be important and look important in our robes and stoles and chasubles. He is also reminding us, wrote Archbishop William Temple back in 1952 (Readings In Saint John’s Gospel), that our first thought must never be, as Peter suggests, “What can I do for God?” For the answer to that question, quite honestly, is Nothing. God does not need all the liturgical garb and ritual. The question must always be, “What would God do for me?” The answer to this question is Quite A Lot! “He would cleanse me,” writes Temple, “when I recognize that I need to be cleansed, and acknowledging that I cannot cleanse myself. Moreover, it is to each singly that the cleansing service is offered, according to our own stains.” (p. 210)
We read that he who came forth from God is returning to God, and in the mean-time he is loving “his own” to the end. Washing feet demonstrates this love, and he concludes that if he washes their feet then they must wash each other’s feet. And we are those people who know that “his own” includes the poor, the hungry, the blind, the sick, the lame, prisoners, widows, orphans and resident aliens – outsiders of all kinds. We are to approach “his own” with the same dignity and humility with which he approaches them and us. Our first duty is to allow Christ first to serve us, to cleanse us, to sustain us, and empower us, as he says in chapter 14, to do the things he does, “and greater things than these shall you do!” And it all begins with washing feet.
Now once a year the custom has evolved for clergy to wash feet as some sort of sign of our humility. Yet, it strikes me as not entirely humble for just the clergy to do this. It is like taking center stage on a stage for which there is but one center: Jesus. And the text says all followers of Jesus are to do this, not just those of us with dog collars and stoles and chasubles on. Our Catechism says the Laity are the first order of ministers in the Church. We are all baptized into the ministry of the laity, into the ministry of Jesus Christ. So, it seems more natural that we all get involved in this foot washing. I need to wash your feet and I need to feel Christ washing my feet.
Getting down on one’s knees before another person tends to level the playing field. As does taking off my shoes and socks and allowing someone else to touch, let alone wash, my feet is also humbling. In our culture humility is in short supply. Perhaps it begins with feet.
We are all of us are leaders in the Church. We are leaders who follow – we follow Christ who always goes ahead of us. We need to remember we are always to ask, “What would God do for me?” As Holy Week unfolds, it turns out that God does an awful lot for me, for us and for the world. I’ll never cease to be bewildered at the Wonder of it all! Here comes the wonder of it, look at the wonder of it, here comes the wonder of His love. He asks, Do you want me to love you? Do you want me to care for you? [Heartsfield – The Wonder Of It All]
William Rich, another great priest and preacher once urged us at a clergy renewal of vows in the Diocese of Connecticut: Allow yourself to accept God’s love and care. Allow God time in your prayers to thank you for what you have done for God today. Let Jesus wash your feet today, whatever that may mean for you. He is ready to love you and care for you. He had his feet anointed in Bethany a few nights before. He knows how good it feels and wants us all to feel that good. Doing the things that Jesus does, “and greater things than these,” begins with first allowing him to wash our feet. Like I said, it all began with feet. Amen. https://youtu.be/1A_d_vkXSAQ