Friday, April 3, 2015

Get Involved in Someone's Mess

It's become a tradition in my family, and one that I have continued as I work out my own traditions, to attend the Maundy Thursday service at my church. I didn't even know what Maundy Thursday was about until we started attending my church almost 10 years ago. Now I can't imagine missing it.
It's pretty much the same service every year. We keep it simple: mostly hymns, organ prelude, reduced praise team, no drums. The lights are kept low and all of the distractions in the lobby are cleared out. We don't have greeters at the door and you are asked to enter the sanctuary speaking only to the Lord in prayer. Our pastors pitch in and take different parts of the service: one or two read scripture at different points, one (or more) give a devotional on the scripture, our Senior pastor leads communion.
We have a foot washing at this service. It is to mirror what happened after the Passover meal that the disciples shared with Jesus. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, a job usually reserved for a gentile servant. Apparently, washing feet was something so degrading that they couldn't even ask one Jewish servant to wash another Jew's feet. It wasn't just the dirt, but the humiliating nature of humbling yourself before another person that made this task to distasteful.

Why is this night different from all other nights?

I've heard the story before. Jesus humbled himself, taking on the place of a servant and washed his disciples feet. It's an example to us to live humble lives, just as he did. The weight of the Lord of the Universe getting down on his knees and washing feet was huge. It was the picture of sacrifice. But tonight I saw something different. When Jesus started washing feet, the disciples were talking amongst themselves about the political organization of Jesus' new kingdom. They were trying to figure out who would be at the right and left hand of the King, who would hold what positions, probably how great it was going to be to see Rome cower in fear. They lived in a time when there was a first and a last and even to religious leaders of the day, that order was very important. Surely the new kingdom that Jesus would bring would have such an order to it as well. 
Instead of reprimanding them, Jesus grabs a towel and starts washing their feet. I imagine it got pretty quiet, the bickering dying down as people stopped to watch their Master washing feet.
In that one simple act, Jesus set the traditional religious and political roles of the day on their head: he made all twelve men equal. 
He didn't wash Peter's feet and then say, "Wash the feet of the brother next to you." He did all the dirty work, quieting the voices calling out to be noticed and recognized. He humbled himself before each man. By making the disciples equals, not based on their political or economic station, but by their importance to him, Jesus calls them to participate in each other's lives. The bigger picture here is that they had been served but now it was their job to go and serve others. If Jesus got down to wash the dirty feet, maybe we also need to be washing feet of the people around us? Maybe we also need to get involved in other people's messy lives?

Maybe I've heard it before. Maybe I've been blind to it. But all of a sudden, washing feet was about more than just me. Holy Week is a time for introspection and prayer. We remember the joys and struggles of the last week of Jesus' life on earth. We are thankful for the sacrifice that was made for us…and then it kind of ends. I hesitate to say this, but I think we've been making Holy Week all about us. And if you haven't, I'm pretty sure I have been.

Washing feet tonight felt different. I walked back tonight with a fair bit of anxiety. The hall is dimly lit with people everywhere, and I am just not sure where I'm sitting. In years past, I would pick a person before going back so that it would be easier. I didn't this year. I spent the short walk to the fellowship hall mulling over the call to involve ourselves in other people's messy lives.   When I got to the back, my choice was easy. There was a young woman, probably only a few years younger than me, who I knew from the church and a Bible study we used to attend. She was sitting alone and so I asked her if I could wash her feet. I knew some of her story, but only what she had sparingly shared. Her family also served in the church; sometimes it is hard to speak honestly about family (even if it is just your biased perception of things) members who publicly serve and are known in the church. I knelt down and prayed for her as I cupped water to dribble over her feet. I prayed for her heart. I prayed for her struggles. I prayed that she would feel loved.

Life is messy. There isn't anyway around that. Sometimes in my mess, I hardly feel equipped to deal with my stuff. I use that as an excuse to not serve others. But then I think about the disciples--not a one of them were trained for ministry when they met Jesus. Some of them had really great jobs, some just had jobs. He called them out of their former life and taught them something new. We don't have be amazing preachers or teachers to further God's kingdom. Sometimes, we just need to help wipe the dust from someone's feet, pray for them and get involved in their mess.

"But among you, those who are the greatest should take the lower rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Normally the master sits at the table and is served by his servants. But not here! For I am your servant." 
Luke 23:26-27

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