Coming to this night and to this time of year I cannot help but stop to reflect on the years that I have been in ministry and the people that I have served and served with over time… the feet that I have at least symbolically washed if not literally and the people who have washed mine. In particular I remember the being in a church in Newfoundland, working our way through the Thursday evening and the liturgy. When all those who had wanted to come up to have their tootsies tickled with some warm water, a bit of soap and a cloth, I moved to start putting things away only to have a parishioner pipe up and ask, “Sir, who washes your feet?” When I realized (and rather quickly) that the question was in earnest, I invited those who would like to return the favour to come and do for me what I did for them. Sure the water was warm and there was a certain amount of reverence to the whole proceeding but I will never forget the smiles and the laughter… Yes! There was laughter and we were still in church!
The people who participated in that service still remind me of who we washed each other’s feet. A moment that while deeply personal to be sure, helped people to understand better the connection that we need to have with Jesus through his life, death and resurrection. It too is deep, personal and gratifying. But at the same time then, we can look to go deeper in that relationship and really begin to understand what it means to be a follower of the Lord Jesus. And in doing so, we need to ask ourselves a couple of simple questions: (1) how are you at serving others and (2) how are you at self sacrifice?
For those who are in public ministry, it is assumed that we know how to give but what about how to receive? If we don’t start from a point of being the one who needs to receive, then how do we have anything to offer? Jesus tells the Pharisees when he is in conflict with them about whether a blind man should have been healed on the Sabbath, “the thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
For me that is why foot washing, the smiles and the laughter that come with it are so important for all of us. We talk in the Church these days about “baptismal ministries” but how many of our people do we help to see that they are doing ministry throughout their everyday lives. Ministry is at least in part about sharing the things, the gifts, the love that has been shared with us. Ministry is about being intentional with sharing what God has given us with others. Many will look at this week as a sign of failure and weakness. Yet it is not a moment of tragedy and deep loss but of triumph and of fulfillment. We need to remember that salvation comes to us through God taking the lead and embraces the God hating world that has wandered away from him. The only way in which we can aid others to understand how much God loves them is to serve them and to, when it is right and necessary, make sacrifices for them.
Jesus himself sets such a pattern for us: giving ourselves in service and in sacrifice, in love and obedience to God and a willingness to see and bear one another’s burdens. Life is not gained by hording but by giving; not by grabbing but by releasing; not by ruling by serving. And as the Rev. Canon Michael Green once noted, “ too often the Church has worn the robes of the ruler rather than the towel of the servant.” Therefore, as I heard somewhere else recently, “You cannot be full of yourself and be full focused on others.”
True love knows the cost of sacrifice and goes ahead and makes the gift and way. It is the standard by which we ought to live the Christian life and it is the way in which we will draw others to come and to know Christ and to realize they are already known by him. We are, as his Church, chosen and called by him. We are neither a surprise nor an accident. We are washed and ready to go; waiting for what is to come.