“Jesus poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him…‘You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.’” – John 13:5, 13-14
The first thing I noticed about Bill were his hands, specifically his fingers. They were huge and rough. His hands completely consumed mine each time he shook my childhood hand outside of church on Sunday mornings.
Bill was always around our small neighborhood church. He was at every event, every meeting, and would often be working on the church grounds on Saturdays. And while Bill could be jovial and even a bit silly he usually struck me as gruff and even a little scary. Which is probably why I will always associate Bill with feet.
Every Thursday before Easter a handful of souls from our church would gather for the most peculiar worship service of the year. The pews in the sanctuary would be rearranged and we’d sit in a circle. We’d read the Gospel of John for his unique account of the upper room scene. We’d sing a simple song without our hymnals. And then, in the stillness of the evening, the pastor would lead us in a ceremony of foot washing. Our church had a knack for taking the scripture literally and so when Jesus said, “you should wash one another’s feet” that’s exactly what we did. Anyone from the group could grab a basin and a towel and wash someone else’s feet. Bill got up, took my foot in his hands and washed my feet.
In the gospel’s foot washing scene, Jesus says, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” In the moment I remember being a bit confused as Bill washed my feet. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. And, at the time, I did not realize the impact it would have on my understanding of Christianity.
My childhood church emphasized service, not in terms of specified actions but as a disposition of the heart. Service was a lifestyle. It was a way of moving through the world. We were taught to look at the world with the eyes of a servant because that’s what we saw love do. In the 13th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus links love and service in the upper room, when after washing their feet he says,“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
When love takes the form of service it overturns our expectations. When someone serves us because of love, it transforms our perspective. I never again was scared or intimidated by Bill. I still thought he could be a curmudgeon from time to time but, for me, that could never be his defining characteristic. That night showed me that each act of service was Bill’s way of showing that he was marked by love.
“Servant God, may your love overcome our insecurities and our anxieties. Teach us how to receive the gifts from your hands in order that we might learn to lovingly serve from our own. Amen”