I’ve been poking around in The Book of Common Prayer (which, if you don’t already know, has prayers for just about everything, from unemployment to the care of children to how we spend our free time), and there’s a line in the wrap-up to Holy Communion that goes like this: Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart…
I’ve probably prayed that one 500 times. It’s a wonderful, uplifting way to walk out of church and “go forth into the world” – even if the only place you go forth to is the grocery store.
Maybe it takes 499 times for a prayer to sink in. Or maybe (more likely) it takes a particular sermon. Either way, asking God for “strength and courage” took on new meaning for me this Easter. Our minister, Andy Buchanan, gave a talk during Holy Week where he said that the whole foot-washing thing was a nasty business (so much so that you could not even command a Jewish slave to do that for you), and that when Jesus did the remarkable – the unthinkable! – and washed the disciples’ feet, it set the stage for a dramatic perspective shift. No longer was it enough to simply “do unto others” (as in, treating other people the way that you want to be treated); now, Jesus upped the ante: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
Let’s be honest. Most of us get the Golden Rule. Most of us (even if we don’t really follow through) would say it is a good idea to do things for other people that we would want them to do for us: Say thank you. Don’t gossip. Save some of that cake for your husband.
Nowhere, though, would washing somebody’s feet show up on my list. Having grown up in churches where it’s actually a thing, I have been on both sides of the basin – I have washed, and I’ve been washed – and truthfully? I think the whole process is a little bit awkward. It is too intimate, too potentially embarrassing (it’s not like we all have fresh pedicures), and too out-of-my-strike-zone.
Much easier, I think, to just take somebody a meal.
Which is, I think, the whole point. When Jesus gives us a “new command” about how we are to love other people (and accompanies it with a demonstration of the most humble and unappealing service) we have to do a little gut check. I mean, I like to think I would obey Christ (that I would “love as he loved”) but would I? Would I love and serve other people even if it meant getting too close? Going out of my comfort zone? Doing something that is inconvenient…messy…or hard?
I don’t know. I doubt it. Which is why, when I prayed that post-Communion prayer for the 500th time on Easter Sunday, the idea that I could ask God for “strength and courage” came as a blessed relief. If I am going to go forth into the world and serve God “with gladness and singleness of heart” in the awkward or difficult places, I am going to need some divine help.
Because again, let’s be honest. When you get up and go forth after church, you never know who you’ll see at the grocery. Chances are, they don’t want their feet washed. But you can bet that they want to be loved.