Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Morning Thoughts

Following Jesus' command
to wash one another's feet

“[Jesus] poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with a towel that was wrapped around him . . . ‘I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you’” (John 13:5, 15).

I grew up remembering the events just preceding Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion through participating in communion and feet washing in the church on Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter. As a child, I was both fascinated and embarrassed as I watched the older women unhook their nylon stockings in preparation. (These were days before panty stockings and before women thought they could wear slacks to church.) I’m sure the women appreciated that men always washed feet in a different room.

After having my feet washed by somebody’s grandmother, I sometimes squirmed to avoid suffocation as I was gathered into her big bosom in an embrace after this most intimate ceremony in the Christian church. And yet I couldn’t have imagined not participating, for this was every much a part of our Easter celebrations as an Easter sunrise service, a new dress, Easter egg hunts, chocolate bunnies, and egg-shaped, malted milk candies.

While yet in my childhood, although after my Easter basket days, I learned the word apartheid. As I grew, so did my understanding of this awful system of racial discrimination in South Africa. Apartheid, an Afrikaans word meaning segregation, was the legal state of affairs in South Africa from 1948-94. Although a world away from me, it was not unlike segregation in my own United States, which actually was sanctioned much longer than apartheid in South Africa.

Both of these—feet washing and apartheid—came together for me last Thursday as our small group celebrated Maundy Thursday together. We are an interesting mix of ages (between those in their 20s and Bernie and me, group elders, in our 50s), ethnicities (Chinese, Korean, Caucasian, and African), and nationalities (six, the largest number of which call the African continent home). White South Africa and black Kenya came together that night. I wondered if there would be any awkwardness as black hands washed white feet and white hands, in turn, washed black ones. I shouldn’t have wondered. Where was my faith in the unity Christ brought through his example of love and his death on the cross? After all, we’re told, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Indeed, I was moved to remember—to observe—that there is also no white, no black, no color separation of any kind in the body of Christ, the family of God. Or rather, there shouldn’t be any such division. When there is, we shame the cross of Christ. One day, Christians will be held accountable, and perhaps more so than others who only follow social norms. Aren’t we supposed to be following the risen Christ?