In a couple of weeks, I’ll go with most of the bishops, priests and deacons of the diocese of Guildford to the cathedral for a special Maundy Thursday service where we will recommit ourselves to God’s service. Maundy Thursday doesn’t really feature as a significant day for the many people these days. For most it is still a work day, and despite remembering that the Queen gives out some gold on Maundy Thursday, its rituals seem a little arcane. So what is this all about.
‘Maundy’ came into the English language from the Latin word Mandatum which means commandment, and it is associated with this particular day because of a bible reading which is always read on Maundy Thursday, where we hear that the night before he was crucified, Jesus put a towel round his waist, washed his disciples’ feet and said “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
I have to confess that the rite of foot washing is not one of my favourites. Deep down, I’m rather glad that the medieval church hesitated from making it a sacrament. It’s true aren’t generally as filthy as once they were, when people wore open sandals and walked on dusty streets. But even so, the thought of washing someones feet makes you think… what if their athletes foot is flaring up. What if they have a verruca…There are good reasons why, in the ordinary run of things, we don’t go round fondling each others feet.
Which is why foot washing is a good symbol of love. Love is hard. Genuine love costs. Love is most truly shown in our willingness to do the really horrible things.
But as hard as it is to genuinely love one another and serve one another in the way envisaged by Jesus, as easy as it is to be put off by people’s corns and unpleasant toenails, I don’t think it is the hardest thing Jesus asks us to do. Because it is possible to motivate ourselves to wash each others feet, to do the really horrible things, out of a misplaced sense of heroism, and so do it with a peg on our noses.
The hardest thing Jesus asks us to do, is to let our feet be washed. To let ourselves be served. Think how you would feel if you knew someone was going to wash your feet. Would you book an emergency pedicure? It can be profoundly uncomfortable letting someone do something for you as personal as washing your feet. But this is what Easter asks us to do, to let God into the bits of our lives we like the least, the aspects of our personality we most want to hide, the parts of our past which we want to keep buried, and to allow the God who sees everything, even the things we most desperately want to hide, to heal us and reassure us of his love.
This Easter may you both love, and let yourselves be loved, and may you know God’s healing presence in the depths of your hearts.