“Maundy” Thursday in the Episcopal Church and other Anglican churches is the beginning of a three-day recalling and retelling of the foundations of our faith. The retelling starts with the last supper, then moves to the Crucifixion, and then finishes with the Passover of the Lord at the Great Vigil of Easter. It is one liturgy spanning three days. A truly awe inspiring time in the church year.
“Maundy” comes from “maundatum novum” the “new commandment” Jesus gave his disciples at the Last Supper: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
It is terrifying in its simplicity. Instead of ten commandments, there’s just one. No picking and choosing. No, “well, today I’ll observe the Sabbath but not give incorrect change back tomorrow at the store. I won’t lie, but I’ll cheat.”
All you have to do is love one another.
We have made love so romantic, we have taken away ethics. We search almost endlessly trying to find the “special someone” that we ignore all others. We shower affection on one person, but feel it is ok to hate some others. We make a mockery of God’s teaching to us in Jesus when we think Christians are good (most of them) but Muslims are bad. Jews, Christians and Muslims are daughters and sons of Abraham. Furthermore, all humans are all children of God and all of us are loved by God. We’re all related, so why can’t we love each other?
Which brings us to the central embarrassing point of Holy Week. It isn’t the trial before Pilate. It isn’t the blood of Jesus’ torture falling on a heckling crowd. It isn’t even the agonizing pain we imagine during the hours of the crucifixion.
It’s the foot washing. In church. On Maundy Thursday.
Most churchgoers are reserved. Keeping our emotions in check and our bodies in the pew. A foot washing is too personal. Skin to skin contact. In front of everyone.
It seems unfair that the church would have such a vulgar thing as a foot washing. Feet are still considered dirty and smelly. Certainly not something we want to expose in public. And feet are sensitive. Exposing a sensitive part of your body in church seems undignified, even a bit pornographic. “What if the celebrant tickles me?” What if I giggle? I’m not going to let others see my cracked heels, my bent toes and bunions.” We, after all, have an image to maintain.
I often get the response to my invitation to the foot washing “I don’t feel comfortable doing that.” It is an honest response, but it not an excuse. It is supposed to be uncomfortable. It is exposure, revealing a part of our body that is usually covered.
That, to me, is “real church.”
Maundatum novum. Love one another.
Love exposes us. Love reveals our true selves. That’s what makes it hard to see the face of God in a person you do not “know.”
The exposure is painful, not only because it is hard to show our true feelings, but for the ultimate fear. A fear stronger than the fear of death. Fear of rejection.
The outstretched hand rejected. The turned back. ”I don’t know you. I don’t want to know you.” Said by Peter just before sunrise.
It takes courage to love. As important, it takes courage to be loved.
When I kneel at your feet on Thursday, I’m not going to judge you if your nails are unpainted. Or untrimmed. Or unclean. I once did a foot washing in an inner city parish and a homeless man came up, took off his shoes and what remained of his socks. The smile on his face as I washed his feet is a vision I will not forget.
On Thursday, I am going to see human feet. Feet that have walked a human path with human pain and human joy. I am going to see the feet God created. The feet that God loves.
Have your feet washed on Thursday.