It’s just a few days prior to his death, and he knows it’s coming along with betrayal by those closest to him, mockery, and agony. And yet he ties a towel around his waist, fills a basin with water, and stoops close to the ground and the filth and the earth to wash the disciples’ feet.
If that doesn’t fill you with awe, I don’t know what will.
In her latest book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, Anne Lamott writes, “Even though I remember my pastor saying that God always makes a way out of no way, periodically something awful happens, and I think that God has met Her match–a child dies or a young father is paralyzed. Nothing can possibly make things okay again. People and grace surround the critically injured person or the family. Time passes. It’s beyond bad. It’s actually a nightmare. But people don’t bolt, and at some point the first shoot of grass breaks through the sidewalk.”
Lamott could easily have been writing a prayer of the help or thanks genre, but she’s actually describing the wow. The wow is not that bad things don’t happen, because they do. The wow is that “people don’t bolt” during the “beyond bad.”
Last night my husband and I went to hear blind human rights activist, Chen Guangcheng, speak on the Princeton University campus. He told his story of working for justice in China, his famous escape to the U.S. embassy, the lesser told tale of his family’s continued persecution, and the gory details of his nephew’s beating and imprisonment following his asylum in the United States. While the reality of human rights abuses in China is rife with suffering, fear, and pain, Mr. Chen’s family, other activists in China, and many around the world haven’t given up.
Over the last few days the internet has been flooded by photos of Pope Francis washing and kissing the feet of inmates at a juvenile detention facility. The new pope’s far from perfect, and his actions might not change the world, but the images move us because they speak of what it means to regard the humanity of one another in situations that are “beyond bad.”
When you really think about it Holy Week, so artfully named, was “beyond bad.” There was really nothing good about good Friday, and there is nothing more nightmarish than the death of God.
But even in death God hasn’t met Her match. Sometimes we forget, though, that it came to that–that death was gory for Jesus, that it was pain, and the earth plunged into darkness–that simply put, we can’t have the resurrection, the wow, the shoots of grass, without the “beyond bad,” the nightmare of the crucifixion that delivers us from sin and death.
And with all that was yet to come, he went willingly to his death. Yet, before doing so he took their feet in his holy hands and scrubbed them like a servant. That’s what our savior did with some of his last moments on this earth.