Recently I was sent a smartphone camera image from a Maundy Thursday Liturgy. In a provocative scarlet hue, created, I suppose, by a felicitous complex of light, vestment fabrics and tented space, . . . there in this near tangible haze was a casual grouping of our clergy. Given the gauzy hue of the iPhone image, the ambiance appeared to be that of a final glowing moment of release from ceremonial intensity, the Episcopal witness to a satisfactory finish or in liturgy language, Dismissal. In fact, our prelates had just finished washing the feet of some clients from a local medical clinic for indigent folk. The obvious stand out clergy was a bishop arrayed in a deluxe exquisitely fitted cassock with purple cord trim and topped off with a fine draping cape. He had finished himself off with a fine tiptop, the biretta cap, a playful gesture of traditional masculine cleric form. From my alien perspective, this most elegant bishop compared superlatively and in fact in superior array to Pope Francis, himself earlier in proximity to and washing some young Italian ladies’ feet at a Rome prison. (Perhaps someday as a gesture of humility, he will invite them to his papal apartment for good wine to view his art collection.)
I could not help but wonder what it must have been like and tried to put myself in the shoeless feet of a clinic client on Maundy Thursday as our senior prelates explained and conducted this most eccentric ancient Christian rite of feet washing. As I became immersed in my fantasy, I wondered, “Well, okay, do I get a little something for this. . . whatever it is?” Or, “Well, I guess, okay, if it makes ‘em happy and I still get to get my teeth cleaned. .” And then, “I know what they told me, but what the hell is this and guess I oughta be nice!” “Washing my feet, . . really!? Have at it.” “What the hell is he doing in that outfit?”
In another foot play narrative, a friend of mine went to a Eucharist where the priest preached about the girl who lathed Jesus’ feet with some nard, the biblical stuff, the ointment, the expensive oil. (Check out references in Wikipedia; my cats go crazy for it. . . ) Anyway, this girl gets all devotional, so the story goes, and lathers up Jesus’s feet in front of God and everybody at the dinner party. (Personally I just have no reference for this whole thing but have seen stuff on television in dance bar scenes that give me some idea. . . ) The preacher stated that the big deal was the young woman had to finance her nard purchase by dipping into her dowry. Well, could I see some kid trying to get money out of a trust fund for nard? Then, I thought, well, the dowry is supposed to go to the guy she is to marry not herl! Now how was she going to go to the trustee, daddy, I would think, get permission to nard up Jesus and still have a little something to finance the wedding contract?
Now I gotta tell you, the preacher has a PhD, really. . . . The old fashioned name for this sort of biblical analysis of putting interpretation into the biblical text for what you want to get out is eisegesis. So here we get a MDiv/PhD, telling a story which is really his weird thing and calling it, “Preaching The Gospel.” Well, it is sort of sexy and fun but, well, it ain’t Bible exposition. . .
Back to feet washing. . . You know, it is just plain weird in today’s world. When the Church does it, whether with Pope, pomp or party time in ritual and homily, washing folks’ feet, well, unless you are too sick to bathe yourself, it’s just weird. . . unless you get it done, drunk in a sailor’s bar. . .