In our weekly study of sacred text this week, we got to talking about feet. In the Gospel of Matthew, the women meet the Risen Christ and instantly take hold of his feet. This seems like a strange thing to do. It’s not something that we would do. Or it’s not something I would do. I don’t really want to focus on your feet. I want to hold your hand. I want to look into your eyes. I want to pat your back. I want to link your arm in mine but I can tell you with every certainty that I don’t want to touch your feet.
Feet smell. They hide away in socks and shoes. They’re allowed to be hidden so that it is terrifying and overwhelming when they’re exposed. I remember the scandal that broke out when a group of students showed up in the White House in flip flops. It was considered insulting in the same way that some news outlets think it’s appropriate to scorn President Obama for revealing his feet in flip flops. Indeed, feet are supposed to be hidden away where we can’t see them. We’re not supposed to touch them.
And yet, there is something mysteriously powerful about someone touching your feet. A massage therapist at my very favorite place of luxury told me once that our feet house so many nerve endings. She told me this while she massaged one particular spot which was tense. Her question was if my stomach was upset. She explained the power of our feet as I settled into this care. She rubbed away the pain. She eased the tension. She made me feel loved.
On this holy day, we remember that Jesus revealed that love by washing Peter’s feet. It only happens in the Gospel of John. This story isn’t in the other gospels as that final meal is. This may explain why this story is so overwhelming. It may even explain our concern for feet.
Years ago, when I was studying abroad in Florence, Italy, I observed this ritual for the first time. I sat in Il Duomo di Firenze on this holy night and watched as twelve men had their feet washed by the priest. I was incredibly moved by hearing this ancient story and watching this moment unfold. I was overwhelmed. Of course, I had never seen this before. This wasn’t something we did in the Protestant churches I had attended in the past. We had been too concerned about those feet, I suppose. It was in that moment that I wanted more than anything to have this experience. I wanted to have my feet touched. I want to sense that care. I want to feel that love. And so, tonight, we’ll wash feet. We’ll notice how they smell. We’ll be aware of how intensely intimate this act is, but we’ll do it just the same. We’ll do it because Jesus calls us to love each other. Jesus invites us to love those parts that no one wants to touch. Still, we do.