Looking back at the Grow Christians pandemic posts for Maundy Thursday about the creative ways families shared this night’s ritual, part of me wonders if our church services can ever approach the intimacy of the footwashing done by family members for one another. But then I then think again of how our call as followers of Jesus is to be his family now, all of us back together, to dare to bare our feet and let someone else touch them. That in itself feels incredibly intimate. Throughout my long years as a deacon, I’ve treasured the opportunity to kneel with the basin and towel on Maundy Thursday, to hold and wash the feet of my siblings in Christ.
It’s not just that I’ve always had a particular appreciation for feet (having loved going barefoot long into adulthood, and, in my later years, having endured three foot surgeries). It’s also that when I think of our feet, I remember the lines from psalm 139: “I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well.” Evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman says that our feet are what make us human.
I still have the hospital footprints of my two boys (now 46 and 50 years old), tucked into the pages of their baby books, tiny reminders of the sweet tenderness of infancy. I loved holding those soft, round feet, marveling that anything so small would ever be able to support the child. Yet by the end of their first year, both boys were teetering upright on those feet, longing to run headlong into life itself.
As we grow up and age, if we’re lucky and active, our feet get toughened and sturdy. Sometimes they even get calloused (note my husband’s foot patched up in moleskin) or get covered in mud (as mine did walking barefoot at low tide across the bottom of the North Sea), but whatever their condition, our feet continue to be our primary point of contact with the earth.
Certainly in the time of Jesus, feet were also the primary mode of transportation, so of course they got calloused and muddy, damaged and dusty. The feet I encounter here in Maine on Maundy Thursday tend to have been tucked into socks and shoes and don’t actually need a good scrub, but there is still a sweet tenderness as I cradle each foot, aware that I can never know where these feet have been, what they have endured, where they will go next.
I remember being told once that, “If you want to know who you are, look at where your feet take you.” Jesus knew that his feet would take him to the cross. He knew that Judas’s feet would take him to the religious authorities in order to betray him. He knew that Peter’s feet would follow him not only to Gethsemane, but to the courtyard where Peter would deny knowing Jesus.
But Jesus washes their feet anyway, using this humble, intimate act of footwashing to demonstrate God’s love for everyone – no matter where we are, and no matter the condition of our feet, or of our souls.