Lent and Stinky Feet!
As part of our class in Theology/Ethics of Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, we have been participating in the sacraments. Sacraments are a peculiar things, often described as an outward sign of an invisible grace. John Wesley, having a unique and developed theology of what he called "means of grace" defined the sacraments this way, "By ‘means of grace’ I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace.”[i]
Last night we participated in an ancient Christian practice that I had never considered a means of grace: washing each others feet.
Now I know some traditions do this. They observe Maundy-Thursday with a washing of the feet, but this is not usually apart of my tradition, nor would it normally be considered a sacrament or means of grace.
But Jesus commands it with a triple portion in John 13:
And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’ After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (John 13:2-17).
Jesus says (1) we ought to was another's feet, (2) Jesus points to his own example of washing feet as something we should do and (3) calls us blessed if we wash feet. I cannot think of another command Jesus gives his followers 3 times in a single breath. Even more, it is doubtful if there has ever been an instance in recorded history where a superior has washed his subordinates feet pre-Jesus.
So... we did it. At the end of a lecture on Pistis Christou and Schliermacher and Wesley's view of sanctification and how to write a proper academic research paper, we filled bowls of water, took off our shoes and socks, and washed each others feet. We also recited some liturgy as we did it - which to any passers-by we probably looked like a cult.
I could not think of a better symbolic action for Lent. Our feet are one of the hardest working parts of our body, often sore, tired, and smelly. We use and overuse our feet. We strap hardware on our feet so we can do extra work. And when our feet are out of line, our whole body is effected. A friend of mine is just getting off crutches from ankle surgery. One foot was out of commission and he had to have crutches, a scooters, elevators, alternative routes avoiding stairs, and for his mom to trade cars with him because his was a manual. Our feet are small but effect our whole body.
So, stripping our feet down from shoes to socks from socks to bare feet, smells, scars, hang nails, bunions and all, we washed each others feet. Having them washed to get all the sock particles and "toe jam" removed was great. Then, taking our newly washed feet, we put them on the ground in a new place (class and the hallways) and just felt a connection and experience with somewhere else in a fresh way. It was weird and interesting a fantastic.
Of course this relates to Lent. But instead of our feet, we strip down our souls, exposing them to the cleansing power and grace of God. We clean all the toe jam off our souls. We get it realigned. We have the soul dry-cleaned and ready to go so that when our soul touches down on Easter morning, we get to experience the place afresh. We get to sense it, participate in the resurrection in a new way, unclouded, and transformationally.
So, wash your feet. Or if you are feeling adventurous, wash someone else's feet. Let it serve as a reminder of what we are doing in Lent, why we do it, and what the purpose is.