I am part of a group that is preparing for an event in a few weeks. The leader of the group planned a worship experience for us that included a foot washing. She told us a week ahead of time that it was going to happen, so I had a week for fret about it.
I've never taken part in a foot washing, and I must admit to you that I didn't want to. I get why Jesus did it - he was teaching his disciples what it means to serve each other. He did for them a job that is normally done by servants - a job that many would think would be "below" the work of a rabbi. He did it anyway, to show them about service, and to show them about love. I get that.
I think, though, that he chose to wash their feet because that was, in that time, what a servant would do for them. I don't think it was the washing of feet that was important - it was what it represented.
I spent the week trying to figure out a way to get out of it. How could I slip out of the room when the service began? How could I show up late and miss that part? Should I tell her that I just didn't feel comfortable participating? No. I had commitments and responsibilities in this meeting; I had to go, and I had to be a part of it. So I was.
Was it terrible? No. Was it a step closer to Jesus? No, not in the way that those who speak highly of the practice would have predicted.
What is was, though, for me, was an experience of service. Not the foot washing - the participation in it was. The leader of the group planned it, wanted it to happen, wanted it to be special, wanted it to bind us together as a team. She spent many hours planning it, and it meant much to her. To have backed out might have made me happier, but it would have been a disservice to her leadership.
We paired up, and just by chance, she was my partner. She washed my feet, and I let her because it was how she was serving Christ. I washed hers, because it was how I could be of service to her, and to Christ. Was it a sacrament? No, not for me. Was it a means of grace? Not as many would anticipate.
What was special for me was not the physical act of foot washing. It was that after I washed her feet, I could pray for her. I was able to thank God for her leadership and to tell her in the prayer that God loved her, and to show her in the action of participating, that I loved her, too. It's not how I would choose to show it, but it wasn't about me.