Foot Washing and the Nature of Liturgy

Foot Washing and the Nature of Liturgy March 28, 2023

Photo by Shawn Pang on Unsplash

On social media there are those who suggest that we replace foot washing with some other practice, maybe hand washing.  The reason offered is that people are weirded out by foot washing or are unwilling to participate.  But suggestions of this kind fail to grasp the logic of the ritual.

By design, worship, sacred space, and liturgy – in all its forms – draws us into a liminal space and challenges our sensibilities.  It does this by confronting the deeply held assumptions that govern our lives, particularly our desire for control.  We want to be our own gods and we surround ourselves with spaces and practices that reinforce that illusion.

By contrast, practices like foot washing invite us to submit as Jesus submitted, to serve as he served, to humble ourselves as he humbled himself, to embrace the unclean and unwanted as he embraced them.  Our responsibility as a church is not to trim, cut, and sterilize these practices so that they don’t alienate people. Our responsibility is to help people to understand that in confronting the challenge inherent in such practices, we open ourselves to God’s purposes for our world and for one another.  And the only way in which to do this is to be comfortable with their discomfort and with ours.

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