Walking in death to life

Maundy Thursday in Haiti:

Dear Friends in Christ:

In Haiti’s epicenter, anywhere you walk, you are walking in death.

Everywhere you step in earthquake-devastated epicenter of Port au Prince and Leogane and the surrounding areas, your feet get dirty. There are few open spaces left, and what once was open is now filled with tents and tent cities. There is little sanitation. Garbage is picked up some days, but piles up most others. The rains sweep everything down the streets and sidewalks: raw sewage, mud from the crumbled buildings, the decaying remains of those who died and who have still not been found, still not been uncovered in the rubble.

If any one group of people need their feet washed, especially on Maundy Thursday, it is the Haitians, for they walk in death every single day.

But foot-washing — a part of the Christian tradition that comes from the Evangelist John’s description of the Last Supper, in which Jesus washed the feet of his disciples — is not a tradition in the Episcopal Church here. I’m not certain why it isn’t, I simply know that when I asked, “Do we wash the people’s feet here?” I was told, “No.”

I wish that were not so, because right now, Haitians need that foot-washing.

Not just because they are walking in death.

But because I think that most Haitians – those living in tents and tent cities, and those who are in their own homes – need the rest of the world to bathe them in the same love in which Jesus bathed his disciples’ feet.

The standard explanation of the foot-washing scene in John’s Gospel is that Jesus wanted to show how far he was willing to go to be a servant to his disciples, to set an example for them, so that they in turn might be servants as well.

But I have always believed that there is so much more to the story than simply example-setting. I believe that Jesus got on his knees and washed his disciples dirty, smelly, probably ugly feet — that terribly despised portion of the body that most people really don’t want to have washed in public  — I believe Jesus did this as an act of pure love. I believe Jesus took each foot and caressed it, rubbed it, washed it clean, and gently rubbed it dry out of pure love.

And if anyone needs to experience that kind of gentle love, it is the Haitians. They have suffered so much for so long, and then have been torn asunder physically, emotionally and psychologically by this earthquake. Now, the very ground on which they walk is filled with death. What would it be like, I asked the small congregation gathered for Maundy Thursday services at St. James the Just, if we were to have OUR  feet washed, and then were to go across the street to the Tent City where approximately 6,000 people are encamped, and wash THEIR feet? What would happen if we were to show to all those in such great need the same absolute, tender love that Jesus showed to his disciples?

We don’t do foot-washing in Haiti — at least, not yet. Pere David Cesar and I talked about possibly introducing the service next year.

But right now, I said, I think it’s something that Haiti desperately needs: Gentle, tender, pure love. Each of us, I said, needs to take the love of Christ that we feel — however big or small — and share it, gently and tenderly — with those who need it so much more.

When Jesus got down on his knees, I said, he did it out of love. And that very act alone changed the world.

We, too, I said, can do this. We can get on OUR knees, figuratively and literally, and in doing so change not just Haiti, but the world.

I don’t want to walk in death any more. The Haitians don’t want to walk in death any more. What they want — what they NEED, right now — is to walk in love.

What better way to show that love than to have our dirty, smelly, ugly feet washed, and then to wash the dirty, smelly, ugly feet of others?

That kind of love, that kind of willingness to lessen ourselves so that others may be loved and may find life — THAT kind of love changed the world once, and it can change the world again.

I really wanted to wash some feet tonight, and I wanted my own feet washed, in the pure, tender, gentle love of Jesus. We did so figuratively. Hopefully soon, we’ll do so literally as well.

Blessings and peace in this Holy Week,


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