1. are awesome but
2. make me wildly uncomfortable
Case in point: Maundy Thursday.
I didn't actually know what that service entailed until about this time last year when I got there and learned that we, as a congregation, would be washing one another's feet. I was sitting with a friend, so there was no stranger danger [you know, when you're in danger of having to touch a stranger's foot], but still I was sweating it a little. It wasn't that I didn't want to touch her feet, because I felt confident her foot hygiene was fine, and I didn't think she'd judge my washing techniques. What made me nervous was letting another person hold my feet in their hands. I wasn't prepared. I hadn't had a pedicure in months, but unless I made a run for it, this was going to happen despite my chipped nail polish and calloused heels. The thing about our feet is that give away where we've been. In order to get anywhere our feet have to take us, so at the end of a day, our feet have on them all the mess of a day we lived and sinned in. And that's a scary thing to put in the hands of another person.
I tried to put myself in the position of the disciples on that night when Jesus knelt before them and took their feet in his hands. I tried to imagine the panic that the disciples must have felt when they prepared to have their dirtiest part examined, up close and personal, by their leader, their savior, their mentor. I imagine their thoughts were similar to mine. Suddenly I get why Simon Peter flipped out a little, tried to refuse. He wasn't ready. He hadn't prepared. Had he known Jesus would be washing his feet that night, maybe he would have walked more carefully on his way over. Maybe he would have avoided that one place where things tend to get especially messy. I thought of how I approach Jesus all the time - prepared, prettied, primped. Ready to go. Looking my Sunday best. Hoping maybe he won't pick up on the real, true, hot mess that is me.
But regardless of their lack of preparation, Jesus took their feet and washed them of the mess of the day. And in so doing, I think he sent a very clear message to the disciples (and by extension, to me): I know. I know the very messiest parts of your mess. I know where you've been. And I know what I'm doing. Then he instructed them to do the same for each other. It was a symbol of humility, of service, yes. But I think it's also a call for vulnerability in community.
At our Good Friday service the following day, we were given the opportunity to write down any sins we felt convicted of and nail it onto a giant wooden cross near the altar. [Revisit the above checklist for my feelings on this.] I thought up the parts of myself of which I'm most ashamed, and I scribbled them quickly, carefully, onto the paper. I approached the cross, praying no one would see what I'd written, and I remember thinking, my sin is too great. My list is too long. There's no way Jesus can cover this much. And there's no way, if Jesus had known what I would be doing, how I would betray and deny and doubt him, he would have done this for me. The previous day's thoughts began circling in my head as I put together the pieces.
I wonder if it's not exactly what he was saying when he washed the disciples' feet. Jesus knew full well how awful you and I would be. He knew he would be betrayed and denied by the very men whose actual feet he washed. And God sacrificed Christ that we might be saved in spite of it. Jesus saw their feet. He held them in his hands. He knew their messiest, dirtiest, most shameful places. He knew, and he gave his life anyway.
For the season of Lent, we purposefully omit my favorite part of the liturgy of my church [which, for the record, 1. is awesome and 2. no longer makes me uncomfortable]. At the end of service every Sunday, we mimic the action of throwing stuff at the cross. It's the best. Our pastor says the "all of our..." part, and then all together we say the rest, while I nearly throw my shoulder out sending them in the direction of the cross:
All of our problems - we send to the cross of Christ
All of our sins - we send to the cross of Christ
All the devil's works - we send to the cross of Christ
And all of our hopes - we set on the risen Christ
Sunday, finally, we will throw things again. Sunday is Easter and Easter is my favorite because it means that we are saved. We are free. We are loved. We have a place to throw our junk and a place to set our hopes. We have a Savior who loves to wash us clean and we have a community of believers to be our messy selves in. We get grace and mercy and all kinds of wonderful gifts we didn't earn and don't deserve.
Every year around this time, I get this song stuck in my head for days and days:
Me. A wretch. His treasure.