Footwashing, Finger Pointing and Shadows

“I am come a light into the world, that whoever believes on me will not abide in darkness.”

Jesus

(John 12:14)

You may wonder at the combination of words in this title but in a strange sort of way they all fit together.  Each year at our special faith celebrations,  different thoughts hit me in a way that make the observance new, fresh and meaningful. Resurrection Sunday climaxed the most holy and meaningful time of year for Christians world-wide. It is the rock foundation that our faith is firmly built on:  Lent, Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, Palm Sunday, Communion, Footwashing, Maudy Thursday, Tenebrae, Good Friday, Easter Sunrise, Easter and Resurrection Sunday.

Footwashing. Yes, our church still observes this very meaningful service.  It is not weird, uncomfortable, out-of-date, or embarrassing.  Once a year on Maudy Thursday (Thursday before Easter), we observe footwashing with our communion service. It is a special time of reflection as Jesus spent his last hours with the disciples, his closest friends, before his arrest, trial and crucifixion.

Jesus and his disciples were reclining at the table. I suspect the atmosphere was heavy with a darkness that only Jesus understood and dreaded. Perhaps, they ate in silence, each one lost in his own thoughts and reflection. After all, Jesus had told the disciples that they needed to go to Jerusalem where he would be killed.  What did that mean? They didn’t understand and yet each had vehemently declared that they would go and die with him. Confusing thoughts swirled in their brains as they had just participated in the joyous, crowd shouting, triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem where the crowds had shouted, “Blessed is the King of Israel that comes in the name of the Lord.” (John 12:13).  The fact that it was a donkey and not a horse, as ridden by political kings, was noticed but did not seem to matter. But now, hours later and alone with Jesus, the disciples could sense an ominous foreboding they couldn’t explain.  Flickering candles cast lengthening shadows in the darkness.

As supper ended, Jesus quietly stood, wrapped a towel around his waist, picked up the untouched prepared basin of water and to the horror of his disciples began washing each of their feet. Peter’s heart pounded in his chest. He could not bear that his friend, teacher and Messiah would take on the role of a servant and wash his feet. No, no, NO!  It had to be stopped.  But Jesus did just that and in the process showed and taught his disciples and us a valuable lesson on servanthood.

“If I then, your Master and Lord, have washed your feet; you ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, you should do, as I have done to you.”

John 13:14-15

In our church, women wash feet with women and men with men. I sat and watched. A lady in her nineties washed the feet of a 50 year old. A mother and daughter lovingly knelt before each other.  Friend washed friend. Three little girls about 8 years old figured out how to do a threesome. I observed how feet bare the stress and hardships of a life time of walking and living. No one seemed to care about varicose veins, bunions, or bent toes but tenderly lifted her partner’s foot, cupped a hand full of water and let it lovingly flow over a foot,  before taking a towel and gently wipe it dry. When the task was completed, each stood and embraced, whispering words of encouragement and appreciation.

No longer is it necessary to wash the feet of a guest when they arrive at your home, nor do we have servants to do our menial tasks.  But the task of washing feet still has deep spiritual meaning when we do as Jesus’ requested.

After Jesus had broken the bread and shared the cup, he told his disciples some gut-wretching and disturbing news. One of them was going to betray him. It was a bombshell to the already unsettling evening.  How could that be?  They loved him and just hours before had proclaimed their willingness to die for him.  But betrayal-this just couldn’t be. Instead of  pointing fingers at another,  sorrow and fear gripped their hearts as each became aware of his own vulnerability.  “Is it I?” (Mark 14:19).

Is it I, Lord? Would I really do such a thing?

Judas’ dark heart was exposed when Jesus answered his question; “Go and do as you have planned”.   A few hours later the other disciples fled into the night in fear and Peter cursed and swore he never knew him.

This horrible night of Jesus’ suffering and death is remembered in the most solemn and somber of services, Tenebrae. Tenebrae is a Latin word meaning “shadows”.  As the light is quenched, darkness descends and shadows cast their hue.

Shadows.

In a moment of time “Hosanna” became shadowed by “crucify him”, a donkey shadowed a cross, the Messiah shadowed a criminal, the cross shadowed a tomb,  life shadowed death.

Satan thought he won.  The “Light of the World” was blown out.

Darkness.

“And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.”

Mark 15:33

Fear. Hopelessness. Betrayal. Death.

Jesus said, “It is finished,”  bowed his head and died.

John 19:30

Grief: raw, emotional, unfathomable, grief.

Miraculously,  on the third day, (Resurrection Sunday) the power of God conquered death. Blinding light forced shadows to flee. Satan lost when Jesus won the victory. He arose!

“For God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.”

John 3:16

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(On Easter morning I caught the sun just at the right moment as it shoned in the atrium doors at church  and reflected or “shadowed” 3 crosses on the tomb scene.)

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