The feetwashing tubs

Jun 1, 2015 by

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When our church, Laws Mennonite Church in Felton, Del., burned almost six months ago, one of the things that did not melt was our stack of tubs for feetwashing.

012Our church family still practices feetwashing. For those of you who are not acquainted with this tradition, it is usually held in connection with two of our communions a year, in keeping with the passage in John 13:4-17, where Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. In verses 14 and 15, Jesus said, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash each other’s feet. I did this as an example so that you should do as I have done for you.” We have chosen to believe that there is value in taking these words literally and beautiful symbolism in this act of humility, servitude and vulnerability. Many, many sermons have been preached on what this really means, and I have found it incredibly precious in different ways at different times.

As we were preparing for communion this spring, my husband was under the impression that the elders were planning for feetwashing, and as the deacon, it is his job to take care of the physical preparation for the celebration. So he stopped one evening on his way home from work and looked for the stack of eight, gray Sterlite tubs that we use for feetwashing. He found them, alright. For some reason, they were not melted as were most plastics in the church that terrible morning. But they were blackened by smoke and dirty from water. He brought them home.

“Hon,” he said. “Someone has to clean these up.” (“Someone,” I took it to mean, was his wife.) They sat on the cupboard in my laundry room and I looked at them with distaste and dread. I really didn’t want to scrub them up, but communion was only a week away and I knew I didn’t have much time.

Then the church elders decided that, given the shortened time frame, Sunday school being such a big part of our Sunday morning service, and us not being in our own place, they were going to forego the feetwashing part of our communion this time. And I, glad for the reprieve, did not scrub the tubs up. They sat on my counter sometimes, in my laundry sink sometimes, sometimes being moved so I could work in the area that they were, and for some reason, they did not get any cleaner. They just sat there and waited. I kept thinking that maybe someone would get tired of seeing them and would do something with them, but it did not seem to be the case. Last night I looked at them again, probably for the hundredth time at least, and decided that I would do something with them. Today.

So this morning I drew a big sink full of water with bleach, fetched myself a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and set to work. I watched the black spots come off, saw the smooth clear gray come clearer and clearer as the black water was rinsed down the drain. I thought about our church, and about feetwashing, and how the brothers and sisters there are such an integral part of who I am and what I do. I prayed for the two men arrested for the arson of our church, along with two others. I wondered what they would do differently that December night if they could do things over. I thought about redemption and how, even though it seems so simple, it is never easy, and how, even for them, there is Grace enough, if they would only choose it.

The last tub was especially covered in soot and grime. I thought about how washing these feetwashing tubs was something that came down to me being willing to do it, and I prayed that in this washing, God would reckon it as a way that I washed the feet of my sisters and brothers.

I took the tubs out and stacked them on the steps to the upper deck to dry. They were so common in the morning sun, but so glorious in my eyes. Another thing set wrong by the arson was back to order. Slowly, one step at a time, things are getting done — not only in the building, but in our hearts.

And I give grateful praise.

MaryAnn Yutzy lives in Milford, Del. She attended Rosedale Bible College in Irwin, Ohio. She blogs at where this first appeared.

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