36th and 37th days of Lent

No walk yesterday with all that wind and the rain. But this morning Winnie, Chester and I glimpsed a barred owl fly onto a branch nearby, pause 5 seconds and fly off again through the trees.

Other than helping me take a deep breath of surprise, seeing the owl has nothing, really, to do with my task of the day: which is to listen to the gospel for tomorrow evening, Maundy Thursday. For the last 37 days of Lent we have been reciting, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Now, according to John 13, on the night of his arrest Jesus tells the disciples to love one another just as he has loved us.

Well, that certainly takes loving one’s neighbor to a new level! How in the world can we love others in the way Christ loved us? Jesus gave his life on the cross to bring us back into relationship with God. We can’t do that. Is this an impossible command to follow?

“Love one another, just as I have loved you.” How?

Among many things, Jesus is an amazing teacher. Right before he gave this “new commandment,” he demonstrated what he was talking about. Like any creative teacher, he showed us a very simple illustration we wouldn’t forget easily. Jesus got down on the floor from the supper table and washed his disciples dusty feet. For him, love means no one is too good or too important to serve another in a very humble, simple way.

“Love one another just as I have loved you.”

Are any of you really comfortable with this foot washing thing? Peter speaks for most of us, “Lord [or pastor, sister, brother], you will never wash my feet!” Whether Peter thought it was inappropriate for his fearless leader to be doing that task, or whether Peter was embarrassed to have someone wash his feet, he definitely was not comfortable and wanted no part of it.

I almost decided not to have foot washing at the service this year. Why? Because many people are not comfortable with it. To be honest, its out of my comfort zone too. (My feet don’t win any prizes after all the hiking.) But I still couldn’t bring myself to cut it from worship this holy week, because it occurred to me that our discomfort is part of the Teacher’s point.

Loving others in truly self-giving ways will often pull us out of our comfort zones. Those who are washing feet may be uncomfortable touching someone’s feet. Those who have their feet washed may be uncomfortable being that vulnerable. Those who watch from our pews may sense the discomfort that keeps us seated.

All of that discomfort with foot washing is a great gift from our Teacher. Instead of fighting the discomfort, instead of feeling guilty about the discomfort, just notice it. Don’t judge it; don’t suppress it. Let it teach us. We likely have that same feeling of discomfort at other times when God calls us to humbly serve others because it appears ridiculously simple, or inconvenient or beneath us. We can be stonewalled by our hesitancy to leave our comfort zones. The humble simplicity of loving as Jesus loves us is a difficult lesson for us all. But, of course, the kind of loving leadership Jesus exhibited on the cross was in no way comfortable either.

So on Maundy Thursday whether sitting in the pews, or kneeling on the floor, or untying shoes, we will once again let our Teacher imprint this picture in our minds. We need once again to remember Jesus stooping to wash our feet and inviting us to do the same for one another. Despite our squirming, this is a pragmatic, visible sign of love.

We might find ourselves understanding new ways of following this commandment on the other 364 days of the year. It could mean the vulnerability of going to counseling with one’s spouse. Or taking communion to a homebound brother or sister. Or taking on someone’s chores when it is not our turn. Checking on a neighbor we haven’t seen for awhile. Baking communion bread on a busy weekend. Sitting at a different table at coffee hour to meet someone new. Add to the list.

Whether watching, or washing or being washed, take time to give thanks to a Savior who washes our feet and carries a cross. Consider what it looks like for us to love and serve in down-to-earth, simple ways. Ask God to help us to step out or down from our comfort zones to love as Christ has loved us.


  1. Well said, Elaine. You’re so right about the level of discomfort; it definitely serves to shake things up a bit.