They had been through a lot together, Jesus and his disciples. For three years they had crisscrossed the Judea countryside welcoming children and women into their ever-growing band. They had become brothers and sisters to all sorts of outcasts and traitors. The disciples had witnessed the healings of Jesus, the casting out of demons, the hillside picnics of thousands; and themselves had limited success at glorifying God in similar ways. They had also witnessed the growing resistance to Jesus’ works and message. Jesus’ life had been threatened and they feared for their own.
So they set out on yet another journey, this time to the Holy City. Hundreds of folks came to welcome Jesus as though a king. “This is it!”, his disciples must have thought, “our long road is coming to an end. Jesus is going to take control and put things right.” But once inside Jerusalem’s gates the shouts of joy turned to taunts and accusations.
This was probably the 3rd Passover they had celebrated together; the mood, however, was different. A sense of uncertainty and dread wove itself through the evening’s observance. Jesus sent Judas on a strange errand. When he’d gone, Jesus brought a basin of water to where they were reclining and began to wash their feet. Imagine, those long-travelled, dirty feet; calloused by the miles, the miracles and the multitudes, bearing the burdens of those three years. All the anxiety, the uncertainty; their rising expectations and fears, their vigilance and their ignorance, all being washed away by the cool water and Jesus’s touch: burdens relieved as their feet softened. He made them clean and they felt free. And he told them this would be their job, their responsibility, to follow his example and do for others as he was doing for them. All this with a basin of cool water and human touch.
They left their Passover together but would be scattered by the tragedy coming their way.
Around noon, after the religious authorities had Jesus arrested and tortured, they led him before the Roman governor with the recommendation he be put to death. Pilot didn’t want to get involved in what he understood to be a religious dispute. He had enough on his hands, putting down uprisings in the countryside and trying to keep the lid on an explosive Jerusalem. The truth was, Jesus was innocent, but he feared those demanding crucifixion. He was afraid and wouldn’t make a decision: if he set Jesus free the crowd would riot, otherwise he must kill an innocent man. It was within his power and authority to do either. Instead, he took a small bowl of water and washed his hands of the affair. Denying responsibility, he let the crowd decide. They sent Jesus to his death. As we know, many follow Pilot’s example.
The basin or the bowl, in which vessel do we choose to wash? When we wash our hands in Pilot’s small bowl, we give up more than responsibility for our actions. Our hope, if we want to call it that, becomes hollow, our forgiveness empty and our love unrecognizable. But when choosing to wash another’s feet in the Passover basin our hands become the hands of Jesus. We touch and feel the callouses and the twisted toes. We come in contact with the dirt and smells of another’s journey, the burdens they’ve born and the hopes they’ve held. To wash and caress that tired foot is an intimate act, a loving act. It is the presence of God.
Now, I know in these days of keeping our distance and maintaining quarantine it is all but impossible to wash one another’s feet. But we can wash our own feet and the feet of those in our homes. And we can wash someone else’s feet by making a call, sending a card, and saying a prayer. Please, wash your hands to remove the germs. Wash another’s feet to stay in touch, literally and virtually. And when you wash your body remember your baptism: you are God’s beloved child.
In the faith that the love of God makes us one,