Foot washing will be a part of many Maundy Thursday services tomorrow.
The act is intimate and can be uncomfortable to participants. At the Last Supper, the act as performed by Jesus was both practical and the perfect object lesson for humility.
The actual act of foot washing became transformational for a longtime friend of mine.
She was born and raised in the South. She was naturally graced by God with good looks and an outgoing personality. She chose a career as a beautician.
The natural redhead was always immaculately coiffed and stylish. She had the kind of personality that could be called magnetic.
Her early adult years were marked by the marriage to a successful man, the birth of children and the growth of her business.
But as the years passed, life was unkind.
The death of her godly mother, coupled with illness, divorce, estrangement from family and other trials had caused a certain bitterness. She was not in despair, but hope was hard to find at times.
On a cold and rainy night this winter, she was in her home with her daughter and granddaughter.
The natural gas indicator began beeping in her home and she rushed outside, with nothing but her family, a nightshirt and her health. Soon after they had evacuated, her home exploded and burned to the ground.
Her neighbor, an elderly African-American man of dignity and faith, came to her aid. He took her into his home, and he and his wife began to help the best they could.
They covered my friend with a blanket and then an amazing thing occurred. The man warmed some towels in the microwave and began to warm her feet and wash them.
The rain and mud had caused her feet to become filthy as she ran out of the burning home. His act was both practical and healing. That moment transformed my friend.
The only item found in the burned-out home was a charred Bible. She began to connect the dots. Her neighbor had become Jesus for her. He had renewed her faith.
The story began to spread, and others reached out and offered help, the way people do. But it was the simple foot washing that her neighbor had provided that touched her most deeply.
The story could be told many ways. It could be a story of help in a time of need or it could even be told as a story of race. This story is all of those, but most of all, it is a story of grace.
My friend has reconnected with family and has renewed faith. Easter will look different for her.
I am not sure if she will attend a service where foot washing takes place. But if she did, I am certain her mind will take her back to a dreadful night when one man washed her feet and gave her hope.
I know that as I watch foot washing at my place of worship this Holy Week, my imagination will take me to a place in Mississippi, with a burning house, news cameras detailing the destruction, and just out of camera view there will be an old man who is washing my friend’s feet.
Ed Hogan is a public school teacher and ordained Baptist minister who lives in Houston, Texas. He served previously on the EthicsDaily.com / Baptist Center for Ethics board of directors.