During Holy Week, my congregation holds worship on each of The Great Three Days: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.
Though I grew up in a church that held a Good Friday worship service, the concept of worshipping on each of these three days was foreign to me until I took my current job. The Great Three Days quickly became my favorite worship services of the year, not just for what they remember, but also for their richness.
For me, the lasting image from these three days came early on, during Maundy Thursday worship. The text for that service is John 13:1-17, the passage where Jesus washes his disciples feet. This passage is one of my favorites – I find the example of Jesus' servant leadership to be extraordinary. It's also one that holds an emotional place in my heart, forever tied to the summer I worked for YouthWorks Missions , an organization that holds a weekly footwashing service as their culminating ritual.
In my congregation, the way we do this ritual is that the pastors first wash one another's feet. Then they each wash someone else's feet. Once that person's feet have been washed, he or she washes the next person's feet and so on.
This year, the first person to arrive at the pastor's station was a child, a boy who's probably in 6th grade. That, in and of itself, was powerful to me. As I sat in the pew contemplating the ugliness of my feet and debating whether or not I wanted to expose them to someone else, this young boy fearlessly went forward, eager to participate.
The pastor – a man in his 50s – bent down and humbly, gently washed this boy's feet; The leader of our congregation washed the feet of the “least of these”.
Once his feet were clean, the boy jumped from his chair and headed back to the pew, not quite comprehending that he was supposed to stay and wash someone else's feet.
Before he got too far away, the pastor reached out and beckoned for the boy to return to the footwashing station. He then remained with the boy, gently teaching him to wash the next person's feet.
Using very few, if any words, the pastor used his actions to disciple this boy, someone with whom he typically has very little contact.
That moved me, in an incredibly profound way, among other things squelching my internal debate about whether or not to participate in this ritual because of my ugly feet.
Eventually, I, too, went forward.
Someone washed my feet and then I washed someone else's feet.
As I did, I was struck again by the power of Jesus' humble example, something you cannot understand until you're willing to kneel down yourself and wash someone else's nasty feet, feet they, too, are likely very self-conscious about.
This is, no doubt, what I love about The Great Three Days. The services are rich, not only in their liturgy, but also in their actions; They invite parishioners not to sit passively and consume, but to participate. They engage the senses and in the process, transform young and old alike into participants in God's unfolding story of redemption.