Take a moment to look at your hands. We know from our Hindu siblings, some of whom practice palmistry (palm reading), that there is rich meaning to what we see in our hands.* There are three lines on our hands I want us to consider this evening:
1. The life line. This is the one that runs from between your thumb and forefinger down to the heel of your hand. As you consider your life line, notice where it stays the course—follows a clear path. Notice the places where there are branches or splinters, places in your life where you’ve maybe taken a detour.
2. The heart line. This one is closest to your four fingers near the top of your palm. As you consider this line, think of the friends and family members you have given your heart to over the years. Think of the romantic relationships and other interpersonal relationships in your life. Think of your relationship to creation, to the Church, to the world.
3. The head line. This one is in the middle of the palm and depending on your hands is maybe a little more difficult to see. For some of us it is broken into two lines. As you look at this line, consider all of the things you have given your mind to, all of the things you have learned, devoted your intellect to over the years.
Why am I talking about hands on a night when we are to have our feet washed?
In ancient times, when Jesus gathered with friends and family for the celebration of what we call the Last Supper, or the first Eucharist, it would have been custom for guests, as they were arriving, to have their feet washed by a servant in the house. It’s a similar practice to what we do in our day when we arrive at someone’s home for dinner and maybe right when we arrive or right before dinner, we go and wash our hands. Or, our parents or grandparents will say to us, “Ok, time to go wash up for supper!”
Washing the feet for the disciples is a kind of equivalent to us washing our hands. Only, we don’t have servants so much who do this for us! What’s more, the feet, in ancient times, like the hands in modern day, were seen as a kind of symbol for the whole person: the head, the heart, the life of a person—everything. So, when the Bible says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” we know it’s talking about how beautiful it is when someone, a person, brings good news. The woman who comes and anoints Jesus with her hair and the expensive perfume—she bends down and anoints Jesus’ feet, as an acknowledgment of who he is, his whole identity as both fully human and fully God.
Now, here’s the scandal of the foot washing story that we heard read this evening: everyone is already seated around the dinner table about to dive in when Jesus stands up, pours water into a basin, and begins to wash the disciples’ feet. They will already have had their feet washed by the slave, by the servant, when they arrived at the house!
But, Jesus insists on washing their feet again. Jesus assumes the role of a slave, of a servant. The message being that all who are seated around the table, all of us seated around this table, that we are “the kind of people God has over for dinner.”* That God in human form, humbles themselves even to serve our heads, our hearts, our lives. How much more, then, ought we to go and do likewise for others?
*Christian mysticism traditions borrow from Hinduism in seeing spiritual meaning imprinted on our palms
**Thanks to the Reverend Elle Dowd for this turn of phrase