Wineskins Archive

February 12, 2014

My Feet Were Washed Last Sunday (Mar-Apr 2002)

Filed under: — @ 12:33 am and

by Mike Root
May – April, 2002

He didn’t have permission to do it.

He was just supposed to make a few predictable comments about the Lord’s Supper, read a verse or two and say the predictable prayer for the bread and the cup. He came to the microphone with tears streaming down his face. In a choked voice he told nearly nine hundred assembled disciples about his month-long debate with God about what he should do that morning. (Yes, there are still people who care that much about being prepared!) He had already placed a huge, rough-hewn, blood stained cross on the podium. That, in itself, stretched the comfort boundaries of many. He stepped over to the side of the auditorium, picked up a folding chair and headed for me. I panicked slightly, wondering what on earth he was planning. You see Paul is the kind of Christian who follows his heart – especially when he feels it’s being directed by God. He asked me to help him and we both walked up the stairs to the foot of the cross. From around a corner, he brought out a basin, towel and water jar, and I knew immediately what he was planning. As he knelt before me with tears dripping on the floor and my feet, he whispered apologies, but added that this was what God wanted him to do.

I really don’t know which of my feelings was strongest. I was shocked, simply because I had been caught off guard, and I was humbled with a powerful sense of unworthiness. And after nearly thirty years of preaching, I know my brethren. I knew there would be people in the audience who were uncomfortable and unsure about this. Some, hopefully just a few, would be upset, even irate. So along with a broken heart, I had a knotted stomach – a familiar sensation that I pray will someday disappear.

As he removed my shoes and socks and began to wash my feet, he quoted the entire passage from one of the Gospels that tells the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet—at the same meal when he gives them the Lord’s Supper to remember him by. I had never connected the two before! Did Jesus give us his memorial feast just to remember his death, or to remember who and what he was? He was a servant and to separate the man from his character when we take communion is to turn the Lord’s Supper into a ritual – a sacramental simulation of spirituality! How can we “do this in remembrance” of him and not remember that he said, “For I gave you an example that you should also do as I did to you?” The cross was simply an extension of what he did with that towel and washbasin!

I couldn’t raise my head. I was so moved by my brother’s Christ-like spirit and so crushed by my own weak faith that I could only cry and pray. I thought, “Wait a second! I’m the preacher here! I’m the one who is supposed to be setting an example of what it means to be like Jesus! I should be washing his feet!”

That’s when it really hit me for the first time in my life. The apostles must have been absolutely crushed, embarrassed, and humbled by what Jesus did! And what about later – after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead – when they clearly knew that he was the Son of God, God in the flesh, and he’d washed their feet with his very own hands? I wonder if they ever closed their eyes and felt again his hands lovingly moving over their feet? Did they once again feel the pangs of guilt, or did they rejoice that they had seen real love – real servant leadership?

It didn’t even cross my mind to stop it. I could have. But was it possible that God was using him to teach me, and the whole church family, something that I could never have taught through a sermon? Did God touch his heart to do such an unusual, risky, and for some, uncomfortable thing? I could have declared, “Never will you wash my feet!” But I could remember Jesus saying, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me.” When Jesus did it, it was more important than Peter’s pride!

It may never happen again, and no we are not instituting foot washing as an assembly activity. And yes, we got the expected letter from the irate brother about “how far things had fallen” at our church. Oh, I know there was a time when folks argued and split over whether foot washing is an eternal command or a cultural “thing” that’s no longer binding today. That kind of legalistic debate doesn’t serve God’s purposes in the slightest. One thing is unquestionably true -being like Jesus is always binding!

Most of us learned lessons that day we will never forget. I’m not the same person I was last Saturday. I’ve written three books on worship, but I understand and love Jesus now more than I ever thought I could. Jesus was shared in a very special way last Sunday and because of that, young people and older people now have an image of him that will forever change their communion experience. The form of the Cross is even more astounding when I remember that just hours earlier Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist, took a bowl of water, knelt down, and washed twelve sets of dirty feet. At least one was against it, and another was about to return the favor in the form of a betrayal kiss.

Last Sunday my feet were washed. “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.”New Wineskins

Mike Root

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