Written by Becky Brown
I will never forget the first time I experienced foot washing. When I was a teenager, I was a part of a powerful youth program in my home church, Mt. Sylvan UMC in northern Durham. Jenny was the associate pastor and the youth director during my high school years. Through her leadership, I experienced a strong pull to be as involved in the church as I could be. I wanted to know more about faith, wanted to understand my Bible more, and wanted to experience the presence of God all the time. The more receptive I became, and the more I allowed my curiosity to overtake me, the more I felt God nudging me to experience things I never would have thought I would have. I began to let my guard down, and invite God in. I began to surrender to God, and take bold leaps of faith.
When I was 16, the church held a Maundy Thursday Service that included communion and foot washing. To my knowledge, this was the first time the church had ever done a foot washing in this service. But, who knows. Maybe this was the first time I knew of it’s existence. I remember feeling drawn to the service, but feeling completely afraid and weirded out by the whole idea. I had read my Bible, and knew about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. I knew about the significance, but I was wary of going to the service that night. So, I showed up, by myself, and met a couple of friends of mine there. We were teenagers, and we were self-conscience about our bodies in general. We definitely didn’t want anyone touching our feet. We were ticklish, and thought about how embarrassing it would be to laugh during this powerful and quiet moment in the worship service. We didn’t want to be rude, or draw attention to ourselves AT ALL. We were also concerned about seeing other people’s feet and touching them! It was okay to think about washing our friend’s feet, but someone else’s that we barely knew? Not a chance.
When it was time for the foot washing, we looked at each other nervously, but decided to commit. I remember thinking this was a rather rebellious move. My heart was racing as I walked, barefoot, up to the front of the sanctuary. I found an empty station, and sat, waiting to see if someone would come to wash my feet. Someone did, it was Jenny.
As she carefully, slowly, and intentionally washed my feet, tears began to stream down my face. I thought about the scripture in John where Jesus bends down to wash the disciples’ feet at the conclusion of their meal. I thought about how many ways Jenny had represented Jesus to me over our time together in youth ministry. I thought about the example of Christ she had been to me. I was overcome with gratitude. I was overcome with the power and presence of God. I was proud of myself for allowing myself to receive her act of service. Sometimes it’s easier to serve than it is to be served.
After my feet were washed, I had the courage to wash someone else’s feet. I looked in the congregation for someone who had been like Jesus for me. Someone who I wanted to serve and take care of in return for the many ways they had cared for me. I remember walking up to Rosabelle and asking her if I could wash her feet. I loved every moment of it, even if her feet were aged and her toenails weren’t perfectly manicured. I adored being able to honor her like that, and share in the intimacy of that moment. It was beautiful and powerful.
What I realized after this first experience on a Maundy Thursday almost 20 years ago, was the power in our Christian community. The power of connection, and the power of service. Being in community means being willing to be vulnerable and bold. It means that we accept each other, and commit to serve each other, with a level of depth that cannot be described in words. I learned about the full meaning of Holy Ground. We were on it, and we experienced it.
I’m excited that our church will be including foot washing as a part of our Maundy Thursday service this Holy Week. While I know it may be uncomfortable for many, maybe even all of us, I hope we will be bold and vulnerable, and will go for it.