I’m washing black smudges off the bathroom wall. Smudges made wildly searching for the light switch. Little hands reaching and moving, touching and learning, and, yes, causing my shoulders to heave a great sigh right about now. I find more smudges on cabinets, doors, and more walls and I have to ask myself, do they ever actually bathe? Well, I’m their Mama, I know they do. So then why all the smudges and all the time?
Why is it always the dirt I notice? Why is it the harder work that makes me groan and flex my forearms and hands, letting the metacarpals physically take the brunt of my exhaustion and irritation shared only with my brows furrowed down. I think about this and my mind rehearses the Kindergarten lesson study I’ve been reading to my five-year old.
It’s titled “A Special Supper”, and, yes, it’s the powerful story of Jesus and the twelve sharing that last meal together in an upper room. A moment so private there was not even a servant to fill corner space or overhear conversation or, for that matter, to wash the dust off their feet. A common Judaean custom. A time when walking was the only mode of transportation, and a region of hard packed earth being the only thing trodden upon.
I sigh and move towards the kitchen door and study the deep tire tracks circling through mud from visitors over for our own celebration. My left pinky finger hits the ‘A’ on the keyboard and I wince with the new slice of old skin slit open from the fall outside while cleaning up. Our own dirt pressed and molded to form deep gorges of filthy water, now thinly sheeted over with the cold wind whipping. Not a single shoe has been allowed up the stairs from the basement, because I can’t look at one more muddy print on the once clean floor. I still, remembering I’ve been the one on hands and knees mopping those dirt patches, wearing yellow rubber gloves, and smelling the hot clean washing over dusty old.
These knees bent just two weeks before on the hard basement floor of the church going over the Last Supper with a small group of kids. With fabric wrapped around my waist and a table set with grape juice and unleavened bread, I retold the story of Jesus, bent on His own knees cleaning the dust and dirt, not off the floor, but off the feet of those He loved life brothers. His heart troubled that still, after three years of walking and talking, healing and praying, they still did not get it! This journey of teaching them love, forgiveness, compassion, and, yes, the act of serving. So without a word, he wraps linen around his own waist, fills clean water in a bowl, and bows low.
Peter is first. His view of Holy so humbled it shook his core. Toes curled under, feet pulled back, eyes grown round, he refuses. “Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet” (John 13:8). The Greek form is a double negative noun, ou me’. Never, certainly not, not at all, by no means!! Each negative is a pounding point! In. no. way. is. He. washing. my. feet! This is his Lord and this is making him uncomfortable! He would rather hide his dirt than dip in the Lord’s bowl of grace and mercy. It’s true.
If I want the cleansing, I first have to dip toes in the gift offered. And it’s not ever going to be this big party planned out, but rather a moment of the unexpected. The timing will be wrong, or so the scum of my life will shout, but He’s already on His knees waiting to wash out the dark smudges. There is no ‘getting ready’. There is only the seat at the table, with water bowl on the ground.
Such a simple picture, but it offers the freshest beginning.
My left hand curls in, small finger wrapped in a bandage, and I remind myself that it’s also more than a once-a-week scrubbing, but rather a fresh cleanse every moment. Like breathing in and out. The God of new creations doesn’t encourage storing up dirt, only sitting in a posture of prayer. It’s this coming to him again and again, receiving the only water pure enough to wash out the lie of self-saving, self-purifying.
As hymn writer, John Newton said, “If there’s two things I do know, it is that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior”.
In purest water,