I choose to define Mennonite, the verb, with a ritual that is absent in my congregation. Therefore this post is also a call to re-examination, change, growth. To me, to Mennonite is to participate in foot washing.
I don’t pretend to have any scholarly knowledge on the John 13 story, but as a follower of Jesus, it moves me. Jesus knew he would soon be leaving the world. When he washed his disciples’ feet, he was at the point where he was giving conclusions, take-away messages. Something grand or violent might have been more memorable. But instead he did an everyday act of care, to demonstrate the completeness with which he loved his students – and to ask his students to love others as completely.
Now I don’t choose the theme of love for this moment as some wishy-washy, feel-good coating over everything Jesus did. I choose it because this complete love which induced Jesus to wash his disciples’ feet is really what his coming was about. God so loved the world that God sent God’s only begotten Son. That son had so much passion for the people he was saving and teaching that he lived his message even as his people tortured and killed him. But even that could not stop the love of God, which overcame death to reach out once again to humanity. And Jesus physically demonstrated what that love should look like by washing the feet of his disciples, in selflessness and humble concern.
As I said, we do not practice foot washing in my congregation. If I mentioned the practice, members would recognize it from the Bible stories. They would recall the time when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, and may remember that it was a common practice in Jesus’ time. But foot washing is not a practice that many around me will instantly see as Mennoniting.
But while we don’t wash feet at my church, we do practice foot washing in other ways. This is one thing that makes us Mennonite.
That foot-washing love is demonstrated in my congregation through being willing to come over and talk whenever it’s needed or provide a ride on short notice. Members commit to talking about how we’re really doing, praying for one another, and following up with a phone call. And best of all, these things happen out of care for the other. They come out of selfless love and humble desire that our neighbor might enter into the joy we have found.
I used to attend a congregation that washed feet on Maundy Thursday but have not done so for years. Sometimes practices which we use less often simply fade into the past, but sometimes we feel an absence. This absence says that what we used to do was important. And that is what I have noticed with foot washing.
I am a firm believer in physical rituals to remind us of things that are important. In taking off our socks, getting on the floor, and actually cleaning someone else’s feet or allowing ours to be cleaned, our body experiences what we train our minds and hearts for as Mennonites.
We can and do practice foot washing in our relationships and our attitudes. But I think Jesus told us to do the physical act for a reason.
Next week, Ron White, moderator of Eastern District Conference, will reflect on the spiritual vision of the verb Mennonite. What are some of the ways foot washing happens in your congregation? How do you “Mennonite”? Join the conversation on Facebook & Twitter (#fmclife) or by email.
Who am I? (To Mennonite Blog #1)
Serving Christ with our heads and hands (To Mennonite Blog #2)
Quiet rebellion against the status quo (To Mennonite Blog #3)
Mennoniting my way (To Mennonite Blog #4)
Generations Mennoniting together (To Mennonite Blog #5)
Body, mind, heart … and feet (To Mennonite Blog #6)
We have much more to offer (To Mennonite Blog #7)
Mennonite community … and community that Mennonites (To Mennonite Blog #8)