She brought in a loaf of homemade bread, two quarts of tapioca pudding, a slab of cornbread, a jar of peanut butter, and a basin with a towel resting inside.
A visit from Great Aunt Mary. She was bringing snacks and a sacrament.
You’ve got to let her take her time. “Would you like a cup of tea?” “No, no, no,” she waved it away like a invisible fly. “A glass of water then?” “Maybe, but after…”, and here she bustled away from the kitchen where we’d been laying out the goodies she brought.
In a trembling voice she announced that she’d come to wash my feet.
This may beg some explaining.
It was the servant’s job, back in the dusty old days of dusty old streets in Jesus’ time, to wash the feet and rinse them clean of travel’s filth. To get low to the ground, the very definition of humble, and serve. It’s something we do in the Mennonite Church, even though our feet aren’t dust-covered usually and we’d all probably showered that morning. It is a sacrament, a visible act that has a sacred meaning; more is going on than meets the eye. We learned it from Jesus.
“…It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love…”
Great Aunt Mary called me a few days ago. You can tell when she’s on a mission, there’s a certain dogged quality in her voice that is not to be put-off. Because most of the time she’s delivering a blessing, and once a heart makes up it’s mind to bless, it’s likely be in earnest. “I’d like to come over and bring a treat and visit with you. I’ll come at 2:00.”
“…Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist…”
Mary hastened to the basin with intent leaning her forward, almost as if she were walking uphill rather than across a room. She lay the basin on the wood floor like an invitation and I pulled two chairs up. I left and filled a pitcher with warm water at the kitchen sink, thinking while it filled that you just never knew when the holiest moments of your life were going to surprise you by showing up on an overcast Thursday.
“….after that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him…”
Mary felt our homelessness with a keen pain. Mary has been washing feet since her earliest days; eighty-some years of performing the sacred, humbling, simple act of washing the feet of another.
She called my feet beautiful. She said verses as she cupped my feet, one at a time, scooping the warm water over them tenderly. “Fearfully and wonderfully made”, she would say, and in the next moment would tell me some bit of news about a friend’s health. I love the convergence of holy and ordinary and wonder how often we mistake one for the other.
Mary’s a real foot-washer. She gets the towel in between all the piggies and up the ankle. Some ladies scoop one swoosh of water over your foot, quick pat you dry, and done. Not Mary. She figures that anything done for Christ must be done well. I love Mary.
My turn. My heart is painfully wide as I take her feet. I do a good washing, following her example. As I bathe those old, beautiful feet, I think how I’ll always remember this moment, remember this saint who brought me a sacrament and how she loved on purpose.
“…When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” -John 13
A tight hug, standing there barefoot together, the afternoon light slanting over the floor.
“…How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!'” -Isaiah 52:7
How beautiful her aged feet, her aged hands, her earnest love that comes out in tapioca pudding and tall loaves of bread and water forming rivulets over my feet.