I first experienced foot washing in St. James. Maundy is an uncommon word, not often used in the church; it's unused in culture so it stands out. A cultural remnant and commemoration of what?
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Jesus said this to the Apostles after He’d washed their feet before their Last Supper.
The foot washing ceremony commemorates Jesus new mandate. It’s servant leadership; Jesus washes his disciples' feet; the master, the rabbonni, washes his students' feet, they who sense the role should be reversed.
As a ceremony in the Passion Week the priest and deacon wash each other’s feet then turn to show how to wash the feet of those in the congregation first in line. There's ususally some awkwardness. Each person seated, whose feet are washed, then rises, to then turn, beckon the next person, who sits, the risen to then kneel to wash the seated person’s feet. And then so on, seriatim, one is washed, then rises, to turn, to wash the next who is seated, through all choosing to participate. At the end of service the altar is stripped of the outer trapping and comeliness that suggest life so then to suggest death, internment, and mourning.
I have been in this foot washing. The first time I pushed myself to go on. “Ooooh,” feeling a revulsion, as if denuded or unmasked. I don’t know ‘bout you, but I feel my feet are nasty, stinky, mishappen, and poor, even though I take care of them.
Who knowingly chooses to take off shoes and socks, in church, at the end of a day, to expose and have feet washed by a person, who might well be a stranger, or a friend, who one encounters often in situations one feels or senses are intimate relative to other human relations in our culture?
The first time I had pushed myself. I discovered I was gently and humbly transformed; no "Ooooh" 'bout it.
I concindently faced serving my ailing 86-year-old Mother that year. I was afraid for her as she prepared for a total left knee replacement. I did not choose to serve her; I felt it a duty. I was nearest, I was most able, I was available, I was standing in for my siblings, and my Mother was facing a surgery alone of which I knew the effects from a similar knee surgery of mine. I had to serve. I was afraid of serving her. I was afraid of seeing a weakened, enfeebled, Mother.
“Bill,” Mother called.
Yes, I answered.
“Come here.” She was in her bathroom.
Yes, I’m coming. The door was pulled to; I opened it.
My naked Mother sat on her toilet, legs moving and spread, struggling astraddle for balance and simultaneously out of balance, in awkwardness, in pain. Skin pale and yellow in shadowless bathroom neon light, straggly whitish hair, tired eyes pained eyes sad eyes, and arms and hands holding her atop the seat.
I saw her removed breast scar, the empty other hanging. I stared.
“Please help me up.”
I saw her knee's misalignment, askew; tectonic plates laterally shifted from their birth alignment; it seemed as if her tibia might slip up into her thigh's skin, next to her femur, for only their end bits were touching.
I knelt at her feet. She put her hands and arms 'round my neck. I put my gripped her waist. We lifted her up.