Last year I spent a portion of Holy Week at Glastonbury Abbey, a Benedictine community in Hingham, Massachusetts. It was such a meaningful experience that I hoped to repeat it this year. But even before the pandemic, I realized that returning to the abbey wouldn’t be possible because of commitments with congregations at home.
When I learned the abbey would livestream its Holy Week services, it felt like a gift. On Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday for my Glastonbury friends) I was set to join the monks for a service of foot washing and the Lord’s supper.
Then I received an e-mail from a retired pastor in our region. Earlier that week I had dropped off a tablet that I hoped would make it possible for her to join Zoom meetings. Now she wondered if I could talk her through using the tablet.
My calendar had an opening at 6:00 p.m. I was sure I could call her and still be finished in time to join the Maundy Thursday service.
An hour into the phone call it became clear that the livestreamed service would begin without me. It also probably would end without me.
Once I grasped that reality, I relaxed and enjoyed the two hours I spent with Ethel. We didn’t reach the point where she could connect with Zoom, but we laughed a lot and mapped out next steps.
Sometime during that two-hour phone conversation, it dawned on me that rather than watching the monks participate in the ancient practice of foot washing, I was engaged in a modern-day version of that practice.
Foot washing wasn’t part of my life as a Baptist growing up in Oklahoma. The few foot-washing services I’ve participated in since have felt somewhat awkward or even tacky. Clergy colleagues from more liturgical traditions admit to struggling with how to engage their congregations in this practice in a meaningful way.
That all changed for me at Glastonbury Abbey. Watching the abbot wash the other monks’ feet and then engaging in foot washing myself was incredibly powerful. Nothing about the experience felt rushed or embarrassed or contrived. It was a lived-out example of serving others.
Another change happened this year as I helped a retired colleague try to figure out Zoom. I realized I didn’t need a basin of water and a towel to live out that example. It can happen anytime I serve someone else.
One of the ways I hope to continue to hear echoes of Easter is by being mindful of how and when I practice modern-day foot washing—and when I receive that gift from others. And, in case you’re wondering, I heard one of those echoes this past week when—almost a month after our initial phone conversation—my retired colleague joined a Zoom meeting with both video and audio!