As a pastor, I sometimes lead services that I don’t enjoy participating in. Maundy Thursday is one of those services. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely ritual, with an important message — we take care of each other in the body of Christ. Just as Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, we too wash each other’s feet.
I don’t mind washing other people’s feet. I would wash the feet of every person in my congregation if given the chance. But, I don’t want someone else to wash mine. I’m not one of those people who has issues with people touching my feet — I just don’t like the idea that someone, someday will have to take care of me.
So, when my daughter, Reba — then seven — told me she was coming to the Maundy Thursday service and washing my feet, I panicked. I found myself trying to talk her out of coming with me. “Mommy’s going to be pretty busy; you’ll need to be patient before, during and after the service.” But, she was still insistent that she go with me. What could I say?
When the time came for us to wash each other’s feet, she was the first up. She grabbed my hands and pulled me towards the basins of warm water. Even though she’d never seen the ritual, she knew how it was supposed to go. She pointed to the chair and I sat. She waited for me to take my shoes off, and when I did, she lovingly placed my feet into the warm water. Solemnly and reverently, she rubbed my feet with soap and water, dried my them, and put lotion on the cracked and worn skin of my wintered, unmanicured feet.
I was overwhelmed.
The holy moment brought me back to a time with my mom (also named Reba) when she was dying of cancer 16 years ago. Even though she knew she was dying, she was still fiercely independent. But she was growing more frail by the day. One day, when she was supposed to be taking a shower, she called me into the bathroom, crying. She couldn’t do it on her own any more. She needed me to bathe her, but she was heartbroken that I was the one that had to do it. “This isn’t supposed to work like this,” my mom said. “I take care of you; I can’t ask my daughter to take care of me.”
I bathed my mom that day, and I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to do that for her. She was my mom, I loved her and would do anything to comfort her in those last weeks of her life.
While my little Reba washed my feet, I remembered that intimate moment with my mother.
This is what foot washing is about. We give comfort and hospitality, and we receive it. Some of us are better at one or the other, but sooner or later, we need to have the experience of both giving and receiving it.
The foot washing ritual is uncomfortable — it breaks us open, it exposes our vulnerabilities. It prepares us for the death of our independence, and for the resurrection of our reciprocity, our mutuality and true community. It prepares us for a deep love, found at the cross, and found at the empty tomb.
Today, I reminded my Reba that Maundy Thursday is coming up. “I’ll be there to wash your feet, Mom,” she said. I pray, oh God, that I have the grace to let her serve me. On Maundy Thursday, and every day.
Words by Amy Yoder McGloughlin. This post also appears on the Mennonite World Review.