And during supper, Jesus . . . 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?”
My fifteen-year-old self felt very much like Peter the first time that I participated in foot washing. Camp Cedar Falls was hosting the Pacific Union’s Leadership Conference for high school class officers, and my classmates and I joined other academy students for a weekend filled with team-building activities, brainstorming, and services focused on teaching us Christ-centered leadership.
It all culminated in a Friday evening experience that was crafted to bring these lessons to us in a tangible way—music and small groups and videos, Communion and . . . foot washing.
Wait. Foot washing? Did they say foot washing? Panic gripped my heart. I had never participated in foot washing. My family was almost strictly a Sabbath School family, and therefore I had managed to avoid foot washing for 15 years. This was new territory for me, and I was deeply uncomfortable.
People began to partner up, and I turned to head for the bathroom where I planned to hide out until it was over.
I turned around to see my classmate Kristine running towards me.
“Do you want to be my partner?”
My stomach dropped. There was no escape.
“Um, sure,” I said, attempting unsuccessfully at a smile.
“Great!” Kristine said and grabbed what I could only describe at the time as a weird, flat pot. She bounced downstairs, and I followed wide-eyed.
“Would you like me to go first?” She asked.
I didn’t know what this meant. What did going first mean? I took a guess, “Um . . . yeah, okay.”
She motioned to an orange chair. I sat down. Kneeling in front me, Kristine began to take off my Converse.
Until this point, I hadn’t fully comprehended that foot washing would entail taking off my shoes. My thoughts went haywire: my feet are disgusting! They are covered in blood blisters and callouses because of soccer. It was hot today. My feet probably smell! And . . . oh my goodness. Have I shaved? What if I still have those weird little hairs on my big toes?! I’m revolting. She’s going to hate me.
But there was no turning back.
Inwardly cowering, I glanced at Kristine, fully expecting her to take one look at my terrible feet, raise her hands in surrender, and say, “Nope, just kidding. Even Jesus can’t make me touch your disgusting feet!”
But she didn’t. She lifted each foot, placing them in the weird, flat pot full of warm water, and she started massaging the water over my feet. Taking care to cover each part of my foot, she washed the top of my foot and underneath the arch and all of my toes. Her touch was gentle, but confident and sure. Then, taking each foot out, she wrapped them in a towel, patted them dry, and placed them back down. Kristine looked up and smiled.
No words. Just tears. She had unhesitatingly washed one of my most-hated body parts, and she had done so with careful intentionality and a smile—never once making me feel small and unworthy.
Like Peter, many of us exclaim, “Jesus, you will never wash my feet!” We are so uncomfortable with the blisters and the callouses that cover our life. We fear that once Jesus sees them, he’ll throw up his hands and say, “Nope, you’re too dirty. I can’t do this.” We often lock ourselves in, pretending that life is grand and easy, while inside, we’re dying.
But then, Jesus interrupts this façade, walks up to you, and says, “Can I see your blisters? Can I touch your callouses? Can I wash them?”
And you scream, “No, Jesus! You can’t. You’ll hate me.”
Jesus looks at you and smiles, “We need to do this together.”
And he reaches into our lives, seeing each and every gruesome detail. Yet, instead of grimacing, he gently and unhesitatingly washes our wounds with love and peace and joy.
Tonight, we gather at 7:00 p.m., and together we begin the journey with Jesus to the cross. Should we choose, we will have this incredible opportunity to be uncomfortable and vulnerable with each other by washing feet.
May our gathering this evening be a step towards being a vulnerable and authentic community—a community that sees each other’s bruises, heartaches, and struggles. May we be a community that unhesitatingly washes each other’s brokenness, all the while smiling, knowing that Jesus the Lamb of God is doing the same for you and me.