This is Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. For those who consider themselves Christian, this is really the pinnacle of the Christian calendar. I do count myself under this umbrella, but perhaps more low-key and uncomfortable and open than some others who also live in this large and diverse tent. I hesitated before writing this post, but I wanted to share one of my favorite stories.
Today is Maundy Thursday, which is considered the night of the last supper shared by Jesus and His Disciples. This is before His Crucifixion on what we now call Good Friday and before Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday. There is obviously more to the story, but I am sharing the general aspects, so that we can think about the particulars on our own.
I tend to think of Linus, from Peanuts, who wisely said, “There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” With good friends and certain family members who understand me, though, I love to talk about religion and politics. At the very least, if you think about it, religion and politics provide us with stories. And there is nothing more human than sharing a story, whether it’s your spouse sharing the funny story about the work day, or a long, rambling story about your summer canoe trip, or the long-held traditions of stories we tell our children, or the stories that get passed down in cultures.
My favorite part of all religions, and I love to read and learn more about them, is the stories. Sometimes we can find surprisingly similar stories shared among most of the world’s major religions. How we interpret these stories, and how people argue about whose story is the “most true” is the stuff of wars and violence and major disagreements.
Whether you look to Jesus as the center of your spirituality, or you see Him as a thoughtful storyteller, or you are not sure what you think, or you disagree completely, let us consider the story of Maundy Thursday.
I am not a theologian, nor do I ever think of myself as a religion expert, but this is probably my very favorite story in the Christian canon. Jesus and His Disciples were Jews. They were celebrating the Passover Ceder, or the feast of unleavened bread. Passover is celebrated by Jews, marking their Exodus from enslavement in Egypt. They left quickly, so they didn’t have time for bread to rise, hence the unleavened bread. So, Jesus and His Disciples were to share the Passover Ceder together. But Jesus knew that things were very quickly going to change and He warns His flock of His soon-to-be death. Importantly, He greets His Disciples and begins to wash their feet.
Now, let us think about feet for a moment. Our hands tend to be dirtier in terms of the surfaces they touch and the number of germs they are exposed to, but most of us think of feet as pretty gross and they tend to be stinky and sweaty. In the time of Jesus, sandals were the mainstay of footwear and feet washing was pretty important when travel was almost entirely by foot and on dusty roads. Feet washing was an important step before sharing a meal together. People sat at low tables and their feet were visible and obvious. Foot washing would often have been a servant’s task, or the job of each person to wash their own feet. But Jesus greeted the Disciples and offered to wash their feet.
He was showing humility, and showing the importance of service. I think that Jesus’ main teaching is to love and to serve. The Disciples, in contrast, were arguing about who was the most important and not about who should be in service to each other. At first, the Disciples react in an embarrassed and haughty way to His offer. But Jesus explains and quietly begins the ritual. And then they share their last meal together. This time, as bread is broken, Jesus says, “This is my body.” This time, as the wine is shared, Jesus says, “This is my blood.” And He asks them to, “Do this is in remembrance of me.” This becomes the centerpiece of Christian tradition, theology, and the metaphor for a larger-than-life-event that will occur. This last supper is also when He commands them to love one another.
Think of “The Last Supper” as we often do, with Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting and its myriad of reproductions. The picture, above, is a beautiful depiction of the foot washing and also of the last meal. Today, and tonight, many churches will be celebrating Maundy Thursday with mass, or communion, and some will take part in the ritual of foot washing. We think of it now as spiritually representative of our belief. I have always loved this tradition.
When I was growing up, our little church often had its members line up, and one after the other, feet were washed. When your feet were washed, you performed the ritual for the next person in line. It was an exercise in love and service and humility and familiarity. Easter, depending upon the year, can be celebrated as early as late March and as late as the end of April. Growing up in New Mexico meant that this day could feel as hot and dry as a summer day or as cold and snowy as any winter day. So you might have really hot smelly feet to wash, or really cold stale feet to wash. Today in Colorado, it is snowing after several days in the 70s.
Maundy comes from the Latin word for “command.” On this night, Jesus commands His Disciples to “Love one another as I have loved you.” He does this in service and humility. He is commanding and teaching us to love and to serve. He is embracing humility in the presence of stinky feet.We all have feet and they are all stinky at some point.
If you celebrate Easter, peace be with you. If you don’t celebrate Easter, peace be with you. Let there be love at this time, no matter what.
Let us remember that love and stories bring us all together, no matter what. We all can love and serve and share stories, no matter our beliefs and traditions. We all can love and serve and share stories, stinky feet or not.