This is part 2 of my Maundy Thursday sermon, read Part 1 here
An examination of the history of this rite in the church sees it used as a sign of hospitality, servitude and deep love. It has also been interpreted as a means of recommitting oneself to baptism. We live in community as Christians, and we face all of the challenges that living in community brings...often finding ourselves in broken relationships. The opportunity to share in the foot washing can serve as a reminder of our baptism and offer a renewed opportunity for reconciliation and relationship.
When we look at ritual washing of any kind, from the full immersion of ritual baths to the small sprinkle of baptism, we see an act that is not just about having clean feet. When I wash my hands before celebrating the Eucharist I murmur the prayer “create in me a clean heart o God and renew a right spirit within me that I may serve at your altar without error or omission”. I’m going to be using my hands at the altar, and in washing them and saying this prayer I recognize that I will be encountering the sacred. When we wash our feet, we recognize that we will be encountering the sacred--walking the way of the Cross with feet gracefully held by a loving God.
So, in this ritual action by Jesus, we see an act of cleansing that purifies and refines...but further, it is even more important to note that is an action that is withheld from NO ONE. Judas' feet are washed with the same care as his brothers and in that small moment I can only imagine the thoughts that ran through Judas' mind as Jesus cradled his feet in his hands. This is an act of forgiveness and reconciliation--unasked for, unexpected and freely given.
But, and there is a but, it is a gift that Judas refuses.
Judas takes the gift without a willingness to encounter the Christ. This emphasis on performing some act in order to enter into relationship with God (and each other) can be seen throughout scripture and in the stories that emerge from scripture. In the passage from Exodus we hear today God literally passes over the homes of those that have marked their doorways with blood--the ritual action they observe serves as a means of communicating with God of indicating the existence of a relationship. The preservation of life, the washing of the feet...both require movement on both the part of God and the part of the believer.
Ultimately, reconciliation means being open to receiving the freely given gift of God's love. It becomes an act embedded in mutuality and grounded in consent. In order to receive the gift we have to be able to trust the giver--their motivations and their meanings. There have been times in my life when I have refused the offer of good things, purely out of spite...casting aside gifts given out of anger, frustration or resentfulness. And, in refusing the gift I have found myself refusing the possibilities for reconciliation.
As I have learned, too often the hard way, part of the truth is that relationship doesn't exist without any work on our part. I, like Judas, like most of us, have cast away love freely given. Yet, here we are, being given yet another chance. The circular nature of our ritual observances offers us a weekly opportunity for renewal of relationship. The Eucharist, the confession, the foot washing, the forgiveness, the peace....all of this is offered in our community regularly and openly. And, in our liturgy today we are given yet another invitation to re-enter into relationship. Now, I am not saying that anyone must participate in foot washing--there is nothing that prevents us from participating either symbolically and metaphorically! But, this calls the question, what does it mean to offer and accept care from each other in this community? What does it mean to accept a gift of love freely given? What does it mean to trust our bodies and our souls in the hands of God?