Thursday, April 5, 2012
Keeping Steady on Our Feet
5 April 2012
Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
At the end of September 1997 I flew to Honiara on the island of Guadalcanal. The then Archbishop of Melanesia, Ellison Pogo, had invited me to spend six weeks as a ‘visiting scholar’. My original assignment was to preach once and to give two public presentations on the communion of baptized infants and children before confirmation and on the ordination of women. By the end of the six weeks, I had actually preached at least five times, given my two presentations three times and given two impromptu presentations with about an hour’s notice for both!
My first sermon was preached to more than a thousand people gathered in and around the open-walled chapel at Bishop Patteson Theological College. It is the custom in Melanesia to enter holy ground such as chapels and churches with bare feet, so I had removed my sandals and had been enjoying the coolness of the cement floor as I preached and as I continued to participate in worship. As the distribution of communion approached, a young priest handed me a basket of bread and directed me to a communion station just outside the chapel.
What I had not anticipated was a path of crushed coral that I would have to walk back and forth on repeatedly to distribute communion to several hundred people. A lifetime of wearing shoes had not prepared my feet for this task. I tried to focus on the faces of the communicants, but my feet kept sending out an urgent and frequent message: “Are we done yet?”
I do not remember whether I soaked my feet afterwards, but I have some memory of the relief that I felt when I put my sandals back on. Ever since then, however, I have come to respect my feet and their role in the work that I do.
When you think about it, our feet are the unsung heroes of our daily lives. Our hair, our faces, our eyes, our hands, these are open to public scrutiny. People may even compliment us for our haircut or eyes or hands, but our feet, concealed within our shoes, escape notice and have to bask in the reflected glow of any praise directed towards our footwear.
But not tonight! Tonight our feet become the focus of our liturgical celebration. Small feet and large feet, narrow feet and wide feet, younger feet and older feet, tonight is their night. They shall be revealed, if only for a moment, as the foundation upon which our work and ministry are grounded.
In some ways our feet are symbols of so much of Christian ministry that remains unrecognized and unheralded. Whether here at Saint Faith’s or in all the other Christian communities seeded throughout the world, Christians are at work for justice and peace, at work defending the dignity of every human being. We build homes for the homeless, find clothing for the naked and donate food for the hungry. We care for the sick and the homebound and offer words of encouragement and hope to young people as they navigate the difficult river we call ‘growing up’.
Just as our feet remain out of sight, so do these expressions of Christ’s continuing presence and work in the world avoid the spotlight of public notice. But if these efforts were to cease, our communities would quickly feel their absence.
So, let us tonight celebrate our feet, whether the feet on which we walk or the feet on which the Christian community quietly and persistently goes about its ministry in this world. As we wash the feet of our friends and neighbours, let us remember all those quiet and often anonymous acts of loving kindness that sustain the universe. This is their night and even Christ kneels, wrapped in a towel, to wash them and rejoice in them as expressions of the love of God. Amen.