Grace Lindvall
Maundy Thursday
John 13: 1-17, 31-35

I’ve had my feet washed by another person twice. Once was in the church context, a part of the closing devotions of a mission trip. When I had my feet washed during the closing devotion of the mission trip, I’m going to be honest, I didn’t like it, we hadn’t planned well for it–the bucket was only big enough for one foot to be washed so everyone took one shoe off and left the other on as we washed one another’s foot. I think that was the problem, we only went half in, only went as far as we could feasibly make it work, only one foot would fit so only one foot would be washed — the towel was ready at hand to wipe the wet feet, the bucket caught any extra water that spilled, we all quickly put our shoes back on – it was a convenient, clean, orderly foot washing. It was nice, that’s about it.

The second foot washing I experienced was not convenient or orderly. It happened unexpectedly, while I was serving as a Young Adult Volunteer in Kenya. My group of volunteers and I had gone to Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania, for a week off. While we were walking around the old Stone Town of Zanzibar, the girls and I decided to get henna tattoos on our feet. We asked someone walking on the streets where we should go in our broken Swahili and they led us down the street. We followed them down the old stone paths of Zanzibar into the residential part of town where he found two old big doors and knocked on them. Several women opened the doors and ushered us into their home.

We sat in the living room of their home as the older women took our feet out and began painting them, one at a time they painted beautiful intricate designs on our feet, laughing and talking to one another and communicating with us through our broken Kenyan Swahili and their fluent Tanzanian Swahili. But as the older women rotated in and out of the Living room we started to notice that something else was going on. The women were getting ready for something, one would leave the room and come back with makeup on, then leave and come back with her hair done, then leave and come back again with a beautiful traditional dress on. This happened over and over again until we managed to see what was happening, in the room behind us, there was a bride getting ready for her wedding day.

We sat in the living room as the family prepared for the woman’s wedding day. The bride came out in a beautiful traditional dress right as our feet were finishing up. We went outside to let our feet dry, sitting on the curb of the stone alley in Zanzibar remarking on how cool it was that we had our feet painted in the middle of this extraordinary scene, a bride preparing for her wedding day, a family preparing for the celebration. And as we sat on the curb the bride and her family walked out with pitchers of water in their hands and started washing our feet, without words they began washing off the mud which causes your skin to stain in henna, scrubbing our feet to remove the mud while they stood in their beautiful traditional dresses and we sat silent and stunned in our jeans. No one spoke, until my supervisor turned to me and said, “can you believe this?”

There was nothing convenient, orderly, manufactured or premeditated about the foot washing. It was on the back alley of a stone road in Zanzibar while we sat in our old jeans and women in fine clothing came out to scrub clean our muddied feet.

Who were we to have our feet washed by these beautiful well dressed women?

The moment was amazing, it was wonderful, it was unbelievable and to be honest, it was also a little uncomfortable.

Who were we to have our feet washed by these beautiful well dressed women?

But in that moment of uncomfortability and confusion and questioning, something beautiful was at play –the sacredness of humility and uncomfortability.

The foot washing Jesus introduced to his disciples had these same elements- it was uncomfortable, it was unexpected, it was confusing, it was unbelievable and it was unnecessary. It was an act of complete love, a humble act of love, an act of intimacy with this cast of characters, the disciples and their holy teach, Jesus.

Foot washing is the uncomfortable imperative Jesus gives us, the uncomfortable experience with Jesus- an uncomfortable moment because it includes feet, which seem weird to us, uncomfortable because it was confusing, uncomfortable because we don’t know it well, its unusual to us. We seldom find baptism or communion uncomfortable but foot washing, foot washing is uncomfortable, strange, confusing, unexpected.

We all sit with this uncomfortable moment, the discomfort of foot-washing and the fear that I may ask you all to wash one another’s feet at this very moment. And as this service progresses, things promise to get only more uncomfortable, uncomfortable as we begin to move from foot washing to betrayal, denial, and death.

As we feel the pain in…

The discomfort of Jesus knowing Peter will deny him, and knowing we too have denied Jesus.

As we feel the pain in…

The discomfort of betraying Jesus, of hearing the story of Judas’ betrayal and knowing we too have done similar.

And finally, as we feel the pain in…

The discomfort that we ought to sit with in these coming days, these days where we wait, we contemplate, we reflect, we mourn, we weep. The discomfort of leaving this service not with good news but with only whispers of what is to come and the call to weep, mourn and reflect.

So I ask you on this Maundy Thursday service to embrace the discomfort of this day, the uncomfortable moment of leaving here reflecting on our own transgressions, on the sadness of betrayal, on the depths of pain felt these days. Sit with this discomfort and let these moments become sacred in their own way.

Brene Brown, a researcher who inspired a movement on vulnerability and owning our past and our challenges writes in her book, “Rising Strong” that when we numb the dark, we also numb the light. when we numb the dark, we also numb the light.

Brene goes on to say, “A true rumble- a rumble as in a true reckoning, acknowledging, a struggle with the sadness and pain of an experience- a true rumble affects the way we feel, think and act – it affects our whole selves.”

Tonight we rumble, we rumble with the uncomfortable, we don’t leave with good news, we leave with an invitation to be uncomfortable, an invitation to weep, an invitation to repent, an invitation to reflect, an invitation to the rumble.

In the name of the father, the son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.