I didn’t volunteer to have my feet washed last night, but it is something that has been much on my mind. I remember 2009, when I was in Christchurch (near Bournemouth) for work on Maundy Thursday, and couldn’t get to a service due to clashing rehearsals but felt drawn enough to the events of Holy Week to try to do something; I walked to the ocean and let the sea wash my feet. It was cold. I was alone. But in that moment I felt cared for.
Jesus washed the disciples’ feet with water, we’re told. But six days beforehand there had been that business about the nard, the precious ointment. They’d walked a way in those six days, but they must have remembered. Mary anointed the feet of Jesus, and the disciples got upset at the expense, and Jesus told them off. Sure, it was over the top, sure, people might gossip, sure, the money could have been spent on the poor. But she was doing this because of her great love for Jesus.
Six days later the scandal was repeated. “Let me care for you,” Jesus said. “I love you.” He took his cue from a woman… that wasn’t so uncommon. Remember the wedding at Cana? Remember the Syro-Phonecian woman? But I’m sure the disciples must have remembered the nard. Their confusion and embarrassment at the intimacy and expense would have come flooding back. Perhaps their ears and cheeks burned, the way mine do when I remember an extravagant favour, wholly undeserved. Perhaps they experienced the bewilderment of feeling loved and cared for through simple, practical actions. Perhaps they, having followed so far and trusted so much, were at first afraid to allow this further kindness, this further intimacy.
If there had been nard in that upper room, would the disciples’ feet have been anointed with that, rather than washed with the water that was available? I think so.
“Love one another as I have loved you” Jesus said. A tall order.
And then he went and let himself get crucified, and they — we — all ran away at the important bits.