I wonder if St Peter had bunions or - at the very least - smelly feet. He almost certainly had calluses. Cracked soles and calluses. That’s all but certain: all that travel, walking, talking, on unpaved, dusty roads. But bunions are admittedly a matter of speculation.
Peter, I suspect, could be hard on his feet. And his knees for that matter. Running headlong. Without the benefit of orthotics, I wonder how well the disciples did in sandals.
Did James’ feet over-pronate, like my own? Were there any flat footers among the holy twelve?
Was the strike pattern of each disciple - heel to toe or mid-foot strike - something one could discern by studying each foot?
Whatever one’s journey, the feet likely know the full burden of that journey best. Which is why in World War II and Korea, my grandfather believed that the secret to survival began with good socks.
On that night around the table with Jesus and his friends, despite his initial protest, I wonder what story St Peter’s feet had in mind to tell.
You put your history in another’s hands when you hand them your foot. That’s not always easy.
Not that most people are looking to decode it. Foot-reading is a sorry substitute for face-to-face relationship; friendship born of trust and time. But it’s true, I think, that our bumps and scars remind us of ourselves at least, and we feel a bit like open books, or naked, and so we grow self-conscious.
I wonder if this isn’t why we tend to contract out intimate exchanges like pedicures and doctors visits and even haircuts to professionals, not our friends. In the hands of a professional, a haircut is commonplace. In anyone else’s hands, my hair is an intensely personal, intimate space.
A friend of mine liked to talk about his “body bubble” - his sense of physical, personal space - the space to which he reserved the right to grant or deny access.
I wonder if Judas felt self-conscious as Jesus, having stated his intention, wrapped the towel around his waist and began to wash their feet. Was he afraid that his feet might betray the story of his brokenness, his secret intention on that night, that his feet might become a window to his soul?
Vulnerability, even the simple vulnerability of naked feet, is scary because it seems like such a slippery slope. Which is why children learn at an early age to lie about trivial things.
Hiding one’s self - that was the outcome of the very first sin: Adam and Eve, in love with God, too ashamed of themselves to be present to God. We know that these three great days of Holy Week are about Jesus undoing the sin of Adam: that Adam ate from a tree and Jesus will die on one; that Adam sentenced humanity to death and Jesus will raise in himself all humanity to eternal life with God. In three days’ time we will know these things, but consider how the undoing of Adam - or better said, the reclaiming of Adam - begins with these friends around this table and the towel tied around his waist:
Where Adam and Eve hid from God, here is the Great Physician present to his people, on his knees, tending their once-hidden wounds. Washing them clean with his hands.
The hiding is ending.
And God the Father, for his part, who has given all that he has to the Son, will take what belongs to the Son and declare it to them, these holy twelve. The hiding ends when they hand him their feet, and also as he kneels on the floor and takes off his robe. No more hiding. Second Eden.
So this is what tonight is about: God in Christ Jesus means to make them his friends. Friends of God. And he means to make the same of us.
What a wonderful and terrifying thing, to be made friends of God.
Wonderful because I had thought he would want nothing to do with me. Terrifying because I realize he will want everything to do with me, and I know so much about myself, and I know full well where his story is going, how terrifying the next three days will be, what they will cost. Terrifying because, once made God’s friend, I know I am no longer my own.
But what can I want as much as friendship with God? For what else was I made?
So I look up at the table, at the feast that is prepared, and Christ himself is the feast. And I think of this image.
It’s a 15th century icon of the Trinity. A picture of three strangers who appeared to Abraham and Sarah when this long pilgrimage as God’s people was only beginning. The very beginning, and these strangers came and Abraham fed them, and the early Church saw this as the clearest (maybe the only clear) depiction of the Holy Trinity in the Old Testament. And there is much that we might observe about this picture, but one thing that the church through the ages has made especially clear: that there is a spot remaining at the table - that only three sides are taken, and that we, in a sense, are already seated at the table, if pushed back a bit, reclining. And this picture of God’s people at the table with and as the family of God is what the whole story of God has been hoping for and building toward all along.
Tonight it happens. The dream of God so close we can taste it. God at table with his friends. And we are his friends. Drawn into the communion of the vulnerable. The callused. The ones with worn souls. Still here is our hope: we are no longer hidden or hiding from God, but he is binding our wounds, feeding us with himself, and giving us the strength and charge to feed one another and others with the food and drink that we find here. Bread and wine. His body. His blood. Flesh and forgiveness. The cup of forgiveness. Poured out for you.
“Love one another,” he says. “As I have loved you...”
Made friends of God, love one another.
[Maundy Thursday sermon, preached April 5, 2012, St Christopher's by-the-Sea]