The love of washed feet

In an article entitled “Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry”, Henri Nouwen tells the story of a river:


The little river said, “I can become a big river.” It worked hard, but there was a big rock. The river said, “I’m going to get around this rock.” The little river pushed and pushed, and since it had a lot of strength, it got itself around the rock. Soon the river faced a big wall, and the river kept pushing this wall. Eventually, the river made a canyon and carved a way through. The growing river said, “I can do it. I can push it. I am not going to let down for anything.”


Then there was an enormous forest. The river said, “I’ll go ahead anyway and just force these trees down.” And the river did. The river, now powerful, stood on the edge of an enormous desert with the sun beating down. The river said, “I’m going to go through this desert.” But the hot sand soon began to soak up the whole river. The river said, “Oh, no. I’m going to do it. I’m going to get myself through this desert.”


But the river soon had drained into the sand until it was only a small mud pool. Then the river heard a voice from above: “Just surrender. Let me lift you up. Let me take over.” The river said, “Here I am.” The sun then lifted up the river and made the river into a huge cloud. He carried the river right over the desert and let the cloud rain down and made the fields far away fruitful and rich.


There is a moment in our life when we stand before the desert and want to do it ourselves. But there is the voice that comes, “Let go. Surrender. I will make you fruitful. Yes, trust me. Give yourself to me.”  


The previous year has led us to the desert.  As a people, many of us have been able to find ways to be independent and find solutions to whatever obstacles we’ve come up against.  After a while, our well-rehearsed ways of tackling problems became ingrained.  Distractions, denial, drugs, sex, acquiring, alcohol, gossip – and most anything else the human mind can fixate on to escape suffering have been our go-to mechanisms.  But now…


Our brokenness is unmasked as we are dissipated in the hot sand of the desert.  What was regarded as “strength” can’t muscle past or shield us from what is.  Because life as we have known it is dying.


On Maundy Thursday, Jesus prepares his disciples for his death by washing their feet. It’s an intimate act and yet relegated to slaves as something unfit for people of stature to engage in.  Jesus takes on that role. 


His disciples don’t understand.  Peter in particular. 


The point Jesus is attempting to make is not about cleanliness as Peter mistakenly believes.  It is about love.  The love Jesus came into the world to proclaim is a love that stoops to serve.  No person or part of creation is too lowly to be tended with love.  All are equal and deserving of servant love.


On this holy day, we reconsider our lives over this past year. We think of the ways that Jesus can heal the deep wounds and rifts that we have suffered out here in the desert.  Our feet are burnt by the desert sand, cracking from dryness, swollen from interminable days of wandering.


Jesus sees our suffering and offers a bowl of cool water in which he will wash our feet.  He offers himself as a way out of our own ways of working out life’s problems.  Jesus soothes our wounded feet and lives by willingly relieving us of all that keeps us prisoner to a life of blindness, numbness, and destruction.


Jesus demonstrates a simple, unassuming approach to servant love.  It has a strange power to lift those who will receive it above the desert like a vapor laden cloud that will bring welcome relief to others.  Jesus willingly gave his life so that this will become the way of the world – God’s world.  And Christ’s kingdom.


May your Maundy Thursday be rich with Christ’s blessings.