Every year during Lent and Easter I hope for at least one moment that catches me off guard and opens my eyes to new ways of seeing Christ, of walking the road to the cross, of waiting and watching, of being overcome once again by the hope and power of resurrection. Some years it takes only the first chord of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” on Easter Sunday morning to cause my heart to burn. At other times it is the painful silence of Good Friday that resonates in my soul. Some years I have experienced Christ anew while walking a prayer labyrinth or studying the stations of the cross. From time to time the gospel accounts fall on my ears in ways I haven’t heard them. And some years it’s just the process of walking the road of Holy Week that allows me to feel Easter deep within, in places that words cannot describe.
“Why have I seldom thought about what it would look like for my children to be humbled, to be servants, to wash the world’s feet?”
Last year during the Lenten season I wondered if my “moment” was beginning as I drove with my 7-year-old son, Matthew, to our church’s Maundy Thursday service. To be alone with Matthew was rare in and of itself since there were usually four Baxley children in the car (all talking simultaneously). However, one was old enough to drive herself from track practice, one had a soccer game and the other had dance lessons. With just the two of us in the car, Matthew had some questions. The most poignant was this: “Mom, I know I haven’t been baptized yet, so I can’t take communion, but is it OK if I go to the foot washing?” I could tell it was something he had thought about, only to learn later that he had read just the night before about the way Jesus washed his disciples’ feet on the night of the Last Supper. I assured him that he could take part and that I hoped he would.
Matthew already had a surprising interest in scripture and a strong sense of who Christ is, but he was also a 7-year-old boy in every imaginable way. He loved soccer, Minecraft and Pokemon – and annoying his sisters. He offered commentary during football and basketball games and played a mean round of chess. He had tried out a couple of bad words and, on occasion, would lose his temper. He was curious about everything, asked a million questions, loved school and approached life with boundless energy. On Sunday mornings, just before the beginning of the second hymn when children are dismissed for children’s church, he could be found leaning on the outside edge of the pew like a horse at the Kentucky Derby ready to burst out of the gate. When the moment arrived, he flew out of worship in a flash! Yet something was growing in him, and I had been amazed at times to watch it happen.
As observant as I had been of Matthew – and, I hope, all of my children – nothing could have prepared me for what happened that night. I was beside him while he sat attentively through the Maundy Thursday service. Even though he kept fidgeting with the bulletin and the hymnal, he also listened to the music; sang the hymns, following each verse with his finger; paid some attention during his dad’s sermon; and observed communion quietly as worshippers walked to the front to participate in the ancient method of taking the bread and cup by intinction. He was especially excited that a teacher from his school was there, and he reached over to speak to her as she walked by our pew.
At the end of the service, those who wanted to participate in the foot washing were invited to do so in the back foyer. Matthew eagerly walked up the aisle, and I found myself by his side again as the few of us who chose to participate took our seats. The scripture was read by one of our ministers after which he washed the feet of the person beside him. She then washed the feet of the person beside her, and so on.
“May we have the courage at Easter and always to look our children in the eyes and hope and pray that they will grow into a life that causes them to daily take up the cross of Christ – whatever that means and wherever that takes them.”
I got a little emotional when our young friend, Margaret, dipped Matthew’s feet in the water and dried them with a towel. Then he, as if he were a grown-up, stood from his chair, quietly slid the basin to my chair, kneeled on the floor in front of me and began washing my feet. I could tell it was a little awkward for him, but he was diligent as he made sure each part had been washed before drying my feet with the towel. It was a task he took very seriously, and he was determined to get it right. There he was – my son, a child whom I had cared for and served since the day he was born, washing my feet. I was struck by the beauty and the humility of it all, and all of the implications of that simple act began rolling through my mind, even as the tears rolled down my face.
If I’m at all honest, my deepest, initial instinct as a mother in that moment was to stop him. After all, aren’t I supposed to be taking care of him? He is my child; shouldn’t I be washing his feet? The problem with that way of thinking is that I would be denying him the chance to serve, to become like Christ.
I’d like to believe that in my greatest dreams for my children, what I want for them more than anything is to live a Christ-filled and Christ-like life. Why is it then, that when I imagine that life it also involves a reputable college, a perfect career choice, a great job, fulfilling relationships and family, and freedom from pain? Why have I seldom thought about what it would look like for my children to be humbled, to be servants, to wash the world’s feet?
As counterintuitive as it may seem, may we have the courage at Easter and always to look our children in the eyes and hope and pray that they will grow into a life that causes them to daily take up the cross of Christ – whatever that means and wherever that takes them – deny themselves, put on a towel and serve the needs of the world in every way they are gifted to do so. And may each of us lead them by example.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is one in a series of reflections written for Holy Week by some of our opinion contributors.