April 2, 2012

“Love One Another”

Taking off your socks in a strange place is never particularly comfortable. What if the floor isn’t clean? What if your feet smell? We’d rather sit in our pews and stick to the rituals we know. Still, on Maundy Thursday Episcopalians around the country will remove their shoes and socks and wash each other’s feet.

Growing up I loved watching the families and friends, even elderly ladies and men get on their knees and wash another person’s feet. There is something moving about simply watching one person serve another.

Jesus knows how hard it can be to get up close to other people, to their feet, which aren’t always pretty and don’t always smell that good, and still treat them with dignity and love. Sometimes it’s easier to love one another at a distance, but community does not allow us to do that. It calls us to work hard and make ourselves uncomfortable and spend time with people who we may not always like.

We know that love requires work. We can gather around familiar rituals and talk about the weather, but eventually we’re going to have to deal with real differences, to make difficult decisions and support each other through hard times. Yet, there is nothing so attractive as a community that cares for one another. What people in an increasingly fragmented and isolated life want is to be treated with love. To be seen and understood as much as possible.

Washing someone’s feet involves seeing a part of a person we don’t often come into contact with, a part that might smell a little, be covered in calluses or a bit of dirt from the floor, and yet serving them anyway. In our communal life, this means continuing to be open to each other even when we come into contact with aspects of each other we don’t like.

Though we may not all leave the pew to participate in the foot washing, we all must work to love each other. Love is an essential part of leadership, and of being a follower of Christ. Sometimes this means simply being civil to each other, sometimes it means listening. Church leaders, especially, should model this behavior as Jesus did. If we stop attempting to communicate or understand each other because it’s too difficult, we close off a relationship and deprive a part of the community of the air it needs to breath and flourish.

The commitment to each other, the way that love requires us to see each other and try to understand each other even when we don’t see eye to eye has relevance in the vestry meeting and in the staff meeting. Perhaps it means supporting your clergy and lay staff during this busy time of year, working to understand the opinion of another vestry member you strongly disagree with, or helping another parishioner through a hard time. A community that loves one another can thrive, and it can attract the attention of the rest of the world, which is desperate for love.