A Sermon preached by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector
With a last name like Foote, I’ve decided that God has called me to wash feet on Maundy Thursday. But I also have a deep appreciation for feet. As some of you know, I walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain. The Camino begins in the French Pyrennes and goes 500 miles to Santiago de Compostella, where the bones of St. James, one of Jesus’ disciples, are buried in the Cathedral.
Walking 10-15 miles a day with a pack on my back, my feet became very important to me. They negotiated rocky Roman roads, trudged up mountains, slipped and slid through miles of mud and across endless flat wheat fields. They carried my weight plus the weight of my pack, and by the end of the day my feet had taken a beating. Every morning I rubbed Vaseline on them to reduce friction and prevent blisters, and I paid attention to hotspots as they developed. But whatever I did, I got some blisters anyway. I came to the conclusion that blisters are part of life, and are a message from God that we need to slow down.
From the time we take our first steps as a toddler until we finish walking in old age, feet carry us through life. As I walked the Camino, I found great solidarity with people who lived before the invention of modern transportation. For most of human history, to travel meant that you walked.
Once or twice a fellow pilgrim along the Camino offered to massage my feet, and I struggled with it. It’s a little different when you go for a pedicure, I think. What’s the etiquette around having a stranger massage your feet? It seemed too intimate of a thing, although a few times I accepted the offer, and it was glorious.
Having our feet washed on Maundy Thursday brings up some of the same concerns. Many of us are hesitant to have our feet washed because we have to reveal our feet—a part of ourselves that is so important, but also reveals our vulnerabilities. We like to keep our feet under wraps. Feet are metaphors, perhaps, for our souls. And there could be some connection between the English words soul and the soles, of our feet.
Tonight we celebrate the Last Supper, and the institution of the Eucharist. But in the Gospel of John, which we read tonight, there is no sharing of the cup at the Last Supper. Instead we see Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. It’s confusing.
But I’ve come to believe that Jesus was a master of confusion. Jesus knew that to learn something new, people must go through a period of confusion and reintegration. Maybe Jesus would be at home as an Interim. We Interims tend to cause confusion and, with hope, reintegration, and growth.
Jesus confuses me and causes me to reintegrate his presence in my life on a regular basis. Who would have thought that God would enter human time as a baby born to an unwed teenager? And who would have thought that Jesus, the Son of God, would die as a criminal on the Cross? Jesus confused his disciples. He ate with tax collectors, treated women as equals, healed lepers and those possessed by demons. On his last night with the disciples, he confuses them again by taking the role of a lowly servant—and washing their feet.
Jesus is teaching them about a new kind of authority. After God has given all things into his hands, he takes the role of someone with the least amount of authority, a lowly servant. He uses those hands of ultimate power to wash the feet of his friends. To serve.
It’s no wonder that Peter says, “you will never wash my feet,” he is embarrassed for Jesus. In a society built on honor, lowering yourself like that was shameful. But Jesus insists that this is the very definition of what it means to follow him. This is the exercise of authority like no other, the kind of power that will change the world. The authority of love.
Our journey through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil takes us along the path the disciples walked so long ago: through confusion and sorrow, and finally to the joy of the unexpected Resurrection. It’s a journey of transformation through the portal of death to unexpected new life.
Every year we’re invited to walk this path of transformation together, and it begins with an invitation by Jesus to become closer to him and each other through the simple act of foot washing.
Jesus teaches us to be servants to each other, and also to be vulnerable enough to accept the care of others. One thing I learned from my mother’s slow heath decline this past year was her ability to accept help with grace, and thanksgiving. She was a favorite of the staff in the skilled nursing unit because she always said thank you, and honored the work of those who nursed and served her on a daily basis.
Jesus teaches us how to exercise the authority of love, rather than of oppression. We need more of this kind of leadership in the world today.
Jesus leaves us with the words, known in Latin as the Maundanum, or Commandment. Maundy Thursday is an English adaption of Maundanum: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Tonight we begin our walk of transformation to the Cross, and through the Tomb, towards Easter, and the joy of receiving God’s love for us. Please come forward to have your feet washed in holiness. Amen.