Friday, March 30, 2018

It Happened on a Thursday

Our family washed each other's feet last night.  We've done it for years, every Maundy Thursday.  If you didn't grow up in the Christian faith - or even if you did, some churches just gloss over it - you may not understand the tradition.  So, and keep in mind here that I have a certificate on my wall that says, specifically, that I am not a bible scholar, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples the night he was to be crucified, the night he was betrayed.

Wait, you might ask, isn't that the night he did all the last supper and Eucharist stuff?  Yes, yes, it is.  But one of the gospel writers, John, well, he chose to focus on the feet washing.  He tells how Jesus took off his outer garments and, wrapped in a towel, proceeded to wash and dry, with the towel around his waist, the feet of his disciples - his friends, his troupe, his posse, his people.  He gets to one of the main guys, Simon Peter, who seems more than a little incredulous at the whole thing.

Peter says to Jesus, "Master, are you going to wash my feet?"  And Jesus says back, basically, if you don't let me do this, well, we will not be cool.  Peter told him that he should wash his head and hands, too.  Jesus is, like, no, the rest of you is clean.  He also snarks on Judas a bit and then, at the end of this passage in John, he tells them that he, as their master and teacher, has washed their feet, they should go and wash another's feet.  He tells them, "I have given you a model to follow so that I have done for you, you should also do."  This, I might add, he also said of the bread and wine he consecrated for the first time that same night.

[You can read the whole passage in John here.]

I may not be a bible scholar, - I was just trying to contextualize what I'm trying to get to today, and, pointedly not evangelizing - but, I do know how deeply this scene always touches me.  It is so humble and sweet, so tactile and intimate, almost sacredly silly.  At church, all the washing amounts to is a pouring on of water and drying with a small towel.  There are not scrub-brushes and soap, although the water is warm, there is no rubbing or washcloths... it's not a pedicure.  And I think that's the beauty of it, the almost pure symbolism of it, it is the ultimate metaphor.  There is the water imagery, the reference to baptism and all the water that flows through scripture and the Faith itself.

There is, of course, the service to others this so perfectly shows, the humbling of the self, the putting aside of worldly things.  Last night I watched parents washing the feet of their children, spouses doing the same for each other.  I witnessed the awkward joy of strangers toweling dry the feet of strangers.  I watched elderly folks bend slowly toward another.  I saw kindness in gestures as helpers replaced the wet towels and brought fresh water and drained off the used water.

The ritual is a joy to watch.  I like ritual, I really do.

Looking up at my certificate there, I see that I can speak on what I feel about the scriptures.  For instance, in this story, I see a sending-off.  Jesus knows after he is, gone... well, you know, after he does what is to come in the next few days, these guys - most of them at least - will hit the road.  He is preparing them for a journey.  He is literally saying "Godspeed."  There is, in my mind, no better story than that of a journey.  It is not just the walk that brings us closer to God or understanding or nirvana, a faith walk, it is, also, the trail of tears that can be everyday life.

I am all about the journey.  The ever-allusive destination, the goal, that mythical 'journey's end' has never been clear to me, and, as a consequence, I always am in the middle of things, en media res.  I don't mind, though.  In seeing yours as a sojourner's life, the trip becomes lighter, baggage becomes necessities, work becomes joy, hope becomes faith.  One is never disappointed when the trip is over or that the final place is unsatisfactory, unsavory or worse.  Perhaps it is because, on a journey, we can always stop and rest. We can refresh ourselves with food and drink.  We can wash the feet of those who travel with us, and they ours, and then start up again, renewed and strong.  I think Jesus understood this, I think, ultimately, he is saying I will attend you on this journey, be both friend and master, see you through this journey's joys and sorrows.  The road is waiting, take it up, and may it never end.

Listen, and this borders on sacrilege I'd say, but, honestly, I struggle with the 'true' body and blood of Christ on the Eucharistic table.  I find myself putting it in my "mysteries of faith" box.  I am sorry to say that, and I hope you don't think less of me for it.

And, if I am staying honest here, I find the crucifixion hard to consider as well.  Here, though, it is not so much about doubt as it is about the pain of it all.  A man, even just a man, hung to die on a cross, nails in his ankles and wrists, thorns on his head, blood dripping in his eyes, thirsty and forsaken,  suffers unimaginably until he dies... for me?

Would you understand if I said it is almost too much for me to bear?  That it makes me very sad?  That I know, in the depths of my being, that I am unworthy of this sacrifice?  Is it okay that his suffering in the tomb and his resurrection to come are more than I would have even fathomed to ask?

If I find the table too unfathomable, and the cross too unbearable, what have I left?  Well, maybe, I have a man, a teacher, a Master who will, with unheralded grace and humility, wash my feet.  And, perhaps at my journey's end, I will ask of him, "Jesus, may I wash your feet?"  That, even I, can comprehend.

There's a story I've been telling for years about my old friend, Hippie Bob.  Yes, that's what everyone called him.  I met him my freshman year of college where he lived down the hall from us.  He was from up Cleveland way and had that sort of clipped accent they have up there.  He was tall and lanky with long dark hair and a majestic black mustache.  He was sweet and had the kind of voice you always had to lean in towards to hear.  Notably, he always seemed to have less and less clothes on as the night (read party) rolled on.  He listened to a lot of music I'd never heard before and was smart and funny and clever.

He lived in the same dorm as I did for two years and I think it was in our second year that this took place.  It was late, he and I were alone in his room, a Spring breeze was coming in through the always opened window.  We'd been partying and out of no where, really, in my mind at least, he asked me if he could wash my feet.  I leaned in towards him and asked him to say it again.  It was a weird request, but hey, it was Hippie Bob and I was drunk and I said, what the hell, why not?

He grabbed a dish tub, which many of us had to clean up with in those days, and put a towel in it and placed it at my feet and asked me to take my shoes off.  He grabbed a water pitcher and left the room.  When he returned, he knelt in front of me in only a pair of shorts and had me put my feet in the empty basin.  He poured the water over my feet.  It was warm and smelled faintly of the hand soap the dorms provided.  He briefly bathed my feet and, one by one dried them tenderly.  I guess it all sounds a bit awkward, but, I never felt that way, even in all the times I have related the story.

Now, to be honest, I always told that story because I thought it was strange, a little funny and I get a kick out of telling stories about the folks I've met along my road.  I usually went on to tell the story of how he went on to become a nudist in Florida, which comes as no surprise to all of us who knew him.  It was just a quirky story about a dude named Hippie Bob.

Today, though, today, some thirty-some years later, I am rethinking the story - time can do that.  Strangely, I've always added that detail of the Spring breeze, and his near nakedness and his tenderness.  I'm not sure, but I think he was raised Catholic and, well, in retrospect, it was probably Holy Thursday.  How could I have missed this all these years?  How could I not see what he was doing?  Why did I not see the grace and humility in that gesture?

Bob, if you ever happen to see this, well, right here and now, with tears in my eyes, I thank you and I am sorry I did not offer to wash yours.

Well, that's all I've got for now.  I gave myself from nine to three to do this, this Friday, this Good Friday, the timing was purposeful, and it is nearly up and my other great fascination is about to begin - the Reds open today.

So, I wish you the peace of this season, whether you find it in a holy supper, see it in a resurrection, hear it in a redemption song, see it in the washing of feet, or simply sense it in the crack of a baseball bat.

My journey begins anew each morning.  I am clean.  I am rested.  I am ready.

For a number of years, maybe more than fifteen, this postcard has been on the bulletin board above my desk.  

Maybe I've been thinking about this longer than I know...

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