Now that Easter has passed (and the swelling has gone down in my fingers enough to allow me to type) and I’ve spent time reflecting back on previous Easter seasons, I realize that most of the impactful memories of mine surrounding this holiday are from my childhood. Overflowing Easter baskets from a very generous Easter Bunny who must have had Santa on speed dial since he brought me stuff I had been wanting. Ham dinners at my grandparents’ house, followed by Easter egg hunts and the hope that I’d find an egg or two with a dollar inside instead of candy. (Even at six years old, I’d choose cash over sugar.) Sunrise service at a church whose name I can’t recall, but which is still ingrained in my memory because of the grass, so heavy with dew that it soaked through my lace-edged socks and white patent leather shoes as we stood and listened to the pastor. The bright morning light of the sun shining through the tender, early Spring leaves and blinding me while I gripped my mom’s hand and bowed my head to pray. I don’t remember the words spoken or the sermon that faceless pastor delivered, but I sure remember my wet feet.
If I fast-forward a lot of years and what feels like thousands of miles on my spiritual journey, my next vivid Easter memory is one of the few I have as an adult; specifically, my baptism at Easter Vigil in 2007. I’d never been so nervous in my life. At 29 years old, I was finally going to be baptized. I had been “saved” as a child and baptism never really occurred to me as something I needed until I was converting to Catholicism. That hours-long vigil on Easter Eve was a profound moment in my life and I took my baptism seriously. When I emerged from the water, I was new. I sloughed off my past for good with that cleansing holy water (and nearly drowned in the process because I opened my mouth under water.)
It’s 2015 now, and I’ve put a good 4,000 more miles behind me on my spiritual journey. I’ve left the Catholic Church. I’ve picked up brand new baggage and pain that I hold onto, my fingers dug in like talons because I’m unwilling to give it up. I’ve also found a new church and a new way to worship and during this Easter season, I experienced an old ritual called Love Feast.
For those unfamiliar with Love Feast, the official Church of the Brethren website describes it this way:
In an act of great love, Jesus gave his life for ours. The Brethren, as Jesus’ followers, love God and each other—and take that love into the world. Once or twice a year, Brethren celebrate what the earliest Christians called agape: the outflowing love that seeks not to receive but to give.
Jesus taught us this practice, sharing with his disciples a last, loving meal the night before he died. He washed the disciples’ feet, ate supper with them, sought to draw them closer into the fold of his love, and offered them the symbolic bread and cup.
During love feast, we repeat these simple, meaningful acts. After reconciling any discord among ourselves, we lovingly wash each other’s feet, then enjoy a meal together. Quietly we share communion, the bread and the cup that remind us of Jesus’ great gift; we renew our commitment to follow his example of sacrificial love. Congregations may also observe the eucharist, or bread-and-cup communion, at other times and in other settings.
Love feast closes with a hymn; then follows the humble task of cleaning up, in which all are invited to participate. When we leave the feast, reunited in our dedication to Christ and to each other, the deep, nourishing love goes with us. (source)
Now, going into Love Feast, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Just the thought of washing someone else’s feet made me shudder because, of all the body parts on the human body, there’s really not much uglier than the feet. Let’s face it – they’re hairy, rough, knobby, and the toenails sometimes look like a old, nasty corn chips. (I just gagged while typing that!) The idea of washing anyone’s feet was mildly appalling, but I promised myself that I’d go in with an open mind. I rarely turn my back on new experiences. In fact, I usually jump in feet first, so Love Feast was another chance to jump in feet first. Literally.
Love Feast, held on Maundy Thursday in Fellowship Hall (which is a fancy name for our tiny church basement), was beautiful in its simplicity. Our pastor, who is usually fifteen kinds of awesome, didn’t disappoint, and he led a lovely service. The footwashing thing was early on and I was like, “Phew, we can get the awkward part over with.” When it was actually time to do the washing of the feet, the men and women were separated. (THANK GOD FOR SMALL MIRACLES. I’m all for equality, but I can barely even stand to look at my husband’s feet and I’ve been with him for a freakin’ decade.) I expected to feel my stomach turn, but as we women all slipped off our shoes, the tension eased from my body and I realized, quite quickly, that this whole footwashing thing? Not actually bad at all.The process itself was very touching. The women all treated each other with such tender care and love, washing one another’s feet in warm water and then gently toweling them dry, and (lucky for me) none of us had seriously funky feet. (It’s clear we’d all done some pre-Love Feast foot prep!) As my feet were being washed by a really kind woman in our church, I was moved deeply because I saw in her what I see in so many of the members – beauty and care.
The people at our church and our church itself are all far from perfect, but it has something that I haven’t seen in a church in a long time, if ever – genuine love for one another. That love and care and true devotion to one another as part of the Christian walk is what has made my Brethren experience, so far, unique, and it’s what made Love Feast such an awesome occasion.
The simple act of footwashing, ancient in practice and profound as an act of service, isn’t something that a lot of churches practice anymore. I love that Church of the Brethren has held onto it as one of the most important parts of Christian worship. It makes sense to step outside of our comfort zones and serve each other in such a simple, lowly way. When you do it and think about the fact that Christ Himself wasn’t above such things, you can’t help but feel affected. All of you feels cleansed, not just your feet – almost like a mini-baptism. The meaning behind the act and what it represents is enough to make me set aside my podiatric prejudices, at least temporarily, and enjoy it for what it is – a meaningful act of love.