Friday, 6 April 2012

The World Is Full of Smelly Feet.

The name of a children’s hymn, with such delicious rhymes in it as “hold your nose and wash those toes” - all intended to engage children in the story and symbology of the Last Supper, where Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Jesus' intention was to show that neither he, nor anyone else, is above such lowly tasks and so the Christian church, around the world, conducts feet washing services on Maundy Thursday to remember. Taizé is no different and as it was Maundy Thursday, I decided to go to their version of that service last night.

In preparation, I searched the Internet to see what a feet washing service was all about. In general a Bishop (or senior church official) washes the feet of twelve parishoners. I found useful tips on how to run a feet washing service: make sure you have the bowl of water and washing and drying cloths handy - makes sense; tell women not to wear stockings or tights - also logical, you don’t want a strip show. But then I came across one comment “For the people whose feet are being washed: Instruct them to come to the service with clean feet in clean footgear”. Excuse me? Are you saying to these people "the Bishop is going to wash your feet, but you can’t expect a man of his importance to be confronted by the reality of the task"? Well if the afore-mentioned bishop is not prepared to “hold his nose and wash those toes”, he shouldn’t engage in this sort of charade. But I digress.

Back to Taizé. I had expected Frère Alois (the main man) to be up at the altar and to see him wash the feet of 12 of the brothers. Well I was wrong. Firstly, Frère Alois may be the brother who assumes the tasks of co-ordination, of being the main focus to the outside world, but he is just one of them, the "primus inter pares" - a difficult concept for those of us who live in a hierarchical world. In any case, when it got to the feet washing part of the service, twelve brothers went up to collect their feet washing gear (Frère Alois among them) and they then split into four groups of three, one with a wash cloth, one with a bowl of water and one with a drying cloth and they then proceeded to wash the feet of the other brothers. Well, it wasn’t so much a washing, more a dab, dab, wipe, wipe. Maybe the brothers involved, either as washers or washees, felt a deep symbolism in the whole thing, but I hate to say it, it was rather lost on me. Maybe I was too concentrated on wanting to know if they had been told to wash their feet before-hand or not.

Having said that, going to a communion service on the evening that the Last Supper is celebrated, had a certain extra meaning that I hadn’t expected and certainly for those wanting to take part in the Easter services at Taizé, it is a much less overcrowded way to be involved than by going on Sunday.

Happy Easter everyone !

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