I’ve never really gotten foot washing.
When I was a youth minister in Texas, we had a foot washing service one Maundy Thursday and it was solemn and thoughtful and meaningful and, well, what I can say is I got more out of washing than being washed. Then again, I’m not one for having my feet handled. But the experience has stuck with me beyond my bewilderment because of the way our pastor introduced the ritual, quoting John 3: 3-5 –
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
The trajectory of Jesus’ resolve and compassion is what grabs me: knowing that he had come from God and was going to God, he washed the feet of his disciples, who lived in a world with dirt roads and open-toed sandals: a world of filthy feet. Jesus’ action was not quaint or ceremonial; he wasn’t going for brownie points here. He was doing something few people would do as a way to show his love because he knew from whom he had come and to whom he was going, which gave him all the time and presence he needed to incarnate his love to his loved ones in the most practical way possible, even on the night before his death.
And the practicality of his incarnation of love is what grabs me. It’s not the foot washing for foot washing’s sake; it’s remembering where we’ve been (with God) and where we’re going (to God) with such tenacity as to make us aware and able to love so viscerally, so practically, that what we do to show our love meets that kind of basic-barefoot-in-the-dirt kind of need.
I mostly stumble into those moments.
Tony, our dishwasher, is very new to the US and speaks very limited English. He works hard and he wants to learn because, if we’re talking trajectories, the way out of the dish room is to learn to cook. Abel, who is Guatemalan and can speak well to both Tony and me, has been teaching Tony on the nights they work together and Tony can now cook all the sauté dishes, and cook them well. Last week on a busy night when Abel was not working and Tony was left on the line with two English speakers, he had four or five pans of rosemary pasta going and we were running out of pasta bowls because he was up on the line cooking (where we desperately needed him to be) and not washing the dishes. I didn’t have tickets on my station at that point, so, rather than take over for Tony so he could wash dishes, I went and washed them myself – about three loads, which was enough pasta bowls to keep us going. I was busy washing and didn’t realize they had caught up on the line and Tony was back with me. When I looked up, he was grinning from ear to ear and he said, “Tank you, Miton. Tank you.”
Only then did I realize what I had done. For Tony, it was washing dishes rather than feet that let him know I was with him, that I cared, that I understood how hard he was working, that I knew he, too, had come from God and was going to God. But I can learn. I am intentionally going back to wash when I can. He smiles and “tanks” me every time. Maybe you can teach an old dog new grace.
If we come from God and are going to God, then we began this journey with the very same boundless love and grace that we well find at the end, and that walked with us the whole way. There’s no race to run, nothing to earn or prove. As I’ve said before (mostly so I will hear it again):
we are loved, we are loved, we are really loved
If we are going to end up with the One who begat us all, then this life is not about progress, but about passion and compassion, about loving one another at street level where the roads are dirt and we’re all sockless. And it’s about opening our eyes and hearts that we might do more than stumble into sacredness, but we might, as Jesus did, do what we do on purpose.
I’m grateful I have a dish machine to remind me of the lesson I need to learn and relearn. And a smiling dishwasher who could use a hand.
Oh – and this song from Victoria Williams, passed on to me long ago from a friend with whom I’ve been traveling this circle for a long time.