John 13:5: After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
By Christine Clark
Tenebrae service overwhelms me with its power and emotion. I feel more connected to Christ and His message during Holy Week than at most other times. I can take or leave Christmas, but I observe Easter. The progression of Christian holy days toward Easter begins on Maundy Thursday with Tenebrae. The word itself is Latin for “shadows” or “darkness” and Tenebrae services progress from light to dark. Leaving the church in shadow and silence at the service’s end echoes the darkness of the world when the light of Christ was extinguished for those few days.
Tenebrae services also often include foot washing. Jesus became servant to his disciples during his last time with them and washed their feet, symbolizing that He was there to serve them. He instructed them to follow his example of service throughout the world.
I don’t mind relating the act of foot washing to service. I get that we’re supposed to help each other and be Christ-like as much as possible in our daily lives. But, when it comes to my feet, I don’t want anyone to touch them! I watched warily as the bowl and towel moved to various people in the Tenebrae service last night. Foot washing was optional and I knew it was an act of service, but I have to say I am glad the bowl and towel passed me by.
In the silence during my drive home from the service, I pondered why the idea of someone washing my feet repels me so much. I don’t mind the hugging at church and handshakes. As part of the service last night, we washed each other’s hands. That, too, was okay with me. But my feet? No. Why? I decided that to have someone, almost anyone, touch my feet was just too intimate, too close… Then I realized that was the point of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Foot washing is intimate. During Jesus’s lifetime, only servants washed feet. That’s why the disciples were so shocked at Jesus’s actions. It’s the very intimacy of the act that is so profound. Someone takes your dusty, dirty, probably smelly, foot in their hand and cleans it. Foot washing signals that you are ready to serve, that you aren’t afraid of getting down in the trenches and simply doing what needs to be done.
Early this Good Friday morning, I am pondering service. What can I do today, especially, to serve? Not in a symbolic way, but in a real way? When I run errands today, what face will I show the world? When I speak to people, what tone of voice will I use? If someone needs me, will I be there for them, no matter what they need? Jesus performed the ultimate service for us… a service that went far beyond washing feet… Where and how can I be of service today in my walk toward the holiest of days this Sunday?