I mentioned in a recent
Maundy Thursday post that my church family has a tradition of foot-washing at our Maundy Thursday services. When a neighbor and I were comparing our Holy Week traditions, she told me her church has a foot-washing ceremony too. But they changed it. These days the congregants and clergy are too old for all that kneeling and bending. So now they have a hand-washing ceremony instead!
Now, my first thought was, Hey, that’s pretty cool. You’ve got the same symbolism of service, but it’s more accessible now. Kind of like using gluten-free crackers and grape juice for Holy Communion.
On the other hand, I wonder if the awkwardness and difficulty of foot-washing are a necessary part of the symbolism. Removing your shoes and socks, rolling up your pant legs, allowing someone to kneel in front of you and hold your sweaty, linty feet in their hands—this seems much more intimate than having someone pour water into your palms. Isn’t it?
- Is that intimacy, that vulnerability, a necessary part of the ritual?
- In changing traditions this way, do we lose something important?
- Is such loss acceptable if more people are able to participate in the experience?
I don’t know. But I like wondering about it and discussing it.
Traditions themselves are not holy. They are simply containers that allow us to experience intangible, holy realities. Changing traditions doesn’t change the reality they convey.
What do you think?