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Foot washing – Br. Robert L’Esperance

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Br. Robert L’EsperanceTonight, some of us have come here specifically to perform the ancient Christian ritual of foot-washing in which we seek to imitate Jesus, the suffering servant of Isaiah’s prophecy.

Some of us will recoil from this intimate act of pure service.  To touch another person crosses a boundary.  But piercing that boundary seems to me to have the potential of beginning to free us from the burden of fear.  I think that this is what Jesus was doing when he stooped to wash the disciples’ feet.  Trying to soothe his own fear in seeking the nearness and closeness of those who were closest to him.  Indeed, seeking their very physicality and longing to touch them.

But, intimacy presupposes trust. Without trust, intimacy is impossible.  That makes touching another fraught with risk.  And this is something that we need to acknowledge to ourselves and one another.  Something to seriously consider before we undertake what we are about to do.  Feet in particular have always carried connotations of intimacy and closeness.  It’s a theme that resonates through both Old and New Testament books.

Some will not be able to perform this act.  For one reason or for a hundred reasons, this might be something that we are unable to do.  Possibly it carries too much risk for some of us.  If that is where you find yourself, suspend self-judgment; simply let that be.

Jesus spent much of his ministry undoing the rules about what is proper and what is not proper among human beings.  He transcended many of the boundaries that separate, alienate, and isolate us from each other.  He physically touched others with loving care and deep respect:  touching the untouchable deprived of human touch for a very long time.  Teaching us the true nature of God’s relationship to women and men.  Inviting us into relationship with God and one another based on fraternity that eschews all forms of dominance and hierarchy.

If you choose to come forward tonight remember that you are undertaking a sacred act, a sacred service, and an act of deep personal intimacy.  A ritual that like all rituals, seeks to take us out of our normal mode of being, freeing us to re-imagine ourselves and others.  To see with new eyes and to love with a renewed heart.

This is a time to be fully present to the priceless gift of another’s Presence to you.  Able to say with complete freedom, “Yes, I can trust you to do this.  Yes, I will allow you to touch me.  And I will not be afraid of your touch.”

Focus your awareness completely on whoever’s feet you find before you this evening.  Be entirely present to yourself and the Other. In that moment, let the only thing for you be that one, single person whose feet you are washing; no one and nothing else.  Allow yourself to be completely present to what you are doing. Release “distractions, preoccupations, and prejudgments…” remembering that “Presence is making one’s self available for temporary absorption by someone…”1

In that sacred moment, let yourself be absorbed by that other.


  1. Benner, David G., PhD. Presence and Encounter:  The Sacramental Possibilities of Everyday Life.  Brazos Press, Grand Rapids, 2014.
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1 Comment

  1. James Rowland on April 6, 2018 at 10:18

    It was an excercise in trust and vulnerability. I could very easily wash someone else’s feet but had great reluctance to let others wash mine. When I lived in India I wore sandals called “chupples” which were flat, leather thong “flip flops”. After a hot. dry day walking the dusty streets, there was nothing more wonderful than putting my burning feet into a basin of cool water. I always thought of mandatum when I did this. No one washed my feet for me. On Maundy Thursday I let someone, in my trust , do this act of love and service.

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