Last night I went to our Holy Thursday service… the one that celebrates the last supper and the washing of the feet. I have been to a bunch of these in my life, but so far, every year I had missed the ones here. It was a lovely and touching service; but let me back-up.
Typically, during the service, twelve people, representing the disciples on the night of the last supper, are called up to have their feet washed. First of all, this was what I was expecting. As well, in one of our religious education classes a couple of weeks ago the teachers (and some parents) washed the feet of the second graders. So in some ways I felt I had already ‘been there, done that’.
In last night’s service they had everyone come forward and take turns washing each other’s feet. Pairs of chairs were set up facing each other, and a bowl was filled with fresh water for every new pair. Since I had gone to the service on
my own, my washing experience was with a stranger. It was impossible not to be touched and moved by the experience of washing her feet…. And even more, by her washing mine.
For the most part, I go through life in my own bubble…surrounded by people I know, if not intimately, than certainly in passing. When I am faced with a moment when I can care for someone, like a child in the school office not feeling well, or a parent who has lost their keys, I do what I can to help. Rarely, though, am I confronted with helping those who are complete strangers to me.
Or…. Perhaps it is that I don’t notice their needs in the same way I do with friends. I read a great blog yesterday by a fellow author, Jamie Brazil: walmart-and-the-eightfold-path. In it she describes a situation where she reached out to a stranger, and the emotional response that solicited from him.
When I lived in the mid-west I felt they had a different perspective on this. Particularly during the winter, it was normal for people to help those left stranded by the weather… stuck in a snowed in car, slipping on the sidewalk. The idea of ‘neighbor’ for them was anyone they might run into in the same town, whether they knew them by name or face or not. This extension of the term neighbor is, I believe, the call Jesus had for us.
But, as difficult as it is to make that move to help a stranger, I think it is even more difficult to accept help from someone we don’t know. We are taught at a young age not to trust strangers… something that is sadly true. But in doing this, we sacrifice the special God moments that come by allowing someone to reach out to us in our humanity. In fact on the night of the last supper Jesus told Peter just this… that if he didn’t allow him (Jesus) to wash his feet Peter would not find salvation.
And, after having the nice wash my feet last night, I think I understand this better. Accepting that humble act made me feel more human, in a divine way, than helping others ever has. It reminded me that we are all here together, no better or worse than each other, and that I need as much help as my neighbor.
And that, more than the scented water, has left me feeling sparkly clean today.