(Ask the Matriarch will return next week)

This year, we are having a foot-washing for part of our Maundy Thursday service. We are asking the children to come and have their feet washed, as we think they may be the ones who will actually dare to do it. Most adults are too shy to expose their feet. Also, it gives the children some way to participate in the service.

There’s something different about Holy Week services, at least in my tradition. Most of the time we are pretty wordy. We are people of the Word, after all. But Holy Week is different, more holistic. During Holy Week there are words, but not just words: there are sights and sounds and smells and movements. There is the sight of the altar being stripped, and the experience of foot washing. There is the loud sound of the tomb closing on Good Friday, and there are the flickering candles as each one is snuffed out. There are pilgrimages, too: as people walk the way of the Cross.

I remember one Friday walking the Stations of the Cross not in a sanctuary, but out on the streets of an inner city neighborhood. We stopped at different places that offered hope to hurting people, and remembered what Jesus bore on his way to the cross. We stopped at a Black Pentecostal church and at a homeless shelter and at a food shelf. We finished out with soup at a Catholic church that ministered to immigrants. We were cold by then, even though it was April.

Here also is a poem I found in Imaging the Word, Vol. 3

The Foot-Washing

I wouldn’t take the bread and wine if I didn’t wash feet.”
Old Regular Baptist

They kneel on the slanting floor
before feet white as roots,
humble as tree stumps.
Men before men
women before women
to soothe the sourness
bound in each other’s journeys.
Corns, calluses, bone knobs
all received and rinsed
given back clean
to Sunday shoes and hightops.

This is how to prepare for the Lord’s Supper,
singing and carrying a towel
and a basin of water,
praying while kids put soot
in their socks–almost as good
as nailing someone in the outhouse.
Jesus started it: He washed feet
after Magdalen dried His ankles
with her hair. “If I wash thee not,
thou hast no part with me.”
All servants, they bathe
flesh warped to its balance….
Lord of the bucket in the well.

-George Ella Lyon

8 thoughts on “Thursday Not Ask the Matriarch: Maundy Thursday Reflections

  1. I went to lauds at my parish this morning, usually attended by 6 of us, the chapel was full. I stood, in my jeans, ready to teach lab today, to read, with the tabernacle a foot behind my back. No microphone, just my voice echoing off the back wall, dropping into a profound silence as we realized what we had embarked on…with only what we had to hand, and Christ at our backs.


  2. My tradition, Church of the Brethren, wash feet twice a year. Tonight we will kneel, women before women, men before men, (plus a few family tables) and in that posture of humility, I will take my sister’s feet into my hands and lovingly splash each foot with water. I will carefully dry her feet with a towell from my waist. Then we will both stand and share a “holy kiss,” passing the peace and love around the table. When all are finished, we will break bread and lift the cup and truly feel like the body of Christ once again.


  3. No stripping of the altar for us, because no altar (although the terminology slips in once in a while). But yes, the Holy Week services are more holistic. We had a Taize service with communion by intinction, the choir director as cantor, no choir, no big organ, and a few people actually voiced their own intercessory prayers — (Not Usually Done at our largish church). It was a good and moving service for Maundy Thursday.


  4. We had a lovely and moving Maundy Thursday service. I was concerned because I’m not feeling well today–this winter seems to have left me with a perpetual cold and slighty nauseated tummy. Anyway, I felt fine, and the service was candlelit and intimate. Communion, but no foot washing, though I’d like to, one of these days.


  5. Lovely poems, thank you once again, diane…Our Maundy Thur service included foot washing. We thought perhaps hardly anyone would come forward…but they did. And, since the congregation is older, their feet were those of the poem, old, gnarled, boney…I washed many of them, and then someone asked if she could wash, and so she did the rest. It was really wonderful.Now, a prayer vigil is going on through out the night…with someone praying each hour until noon on Friday.


  6. I wouldn’t take the bread and wine if I didn’t wash feet.”Old Regular BaptistI loved this – but want to comment that so often it’s harder -much harder – to have our feet washed than to serve others. (Jesus modelled both)Sometimes clergy need to practice being served as well as serving!


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