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He cradles her feet, tired with years, in his sturdy hands.
Slowly, he pours water over them. Then washes them, gently with a cloth.
Mostly he looks down at what he’s doing. She looks down too. A couple times, he glances up. Their eyes meet. He nods. She smiles.
Then they switch places.
He slowly rises to his feet, joints stiff, and takes a seat. She kneels down and picks up the cloth from the basin.
Now she takes his feet, yes, also tired with years, in her hands. And she does for him what he has done for her.
I watch the whole thing.
I’m supposed to be singing. A song about the Man of Sorrows. I don’t know it—it’s new to me. The words are on the screen.
But I’m not looking at the screen.
I’m watching them.
An enactment of the Lord’s posture of servanthood on that night long ago. A sacrament of self-giving love and humility. They embody it so well, this old couple.
And suddenly I am overwhelmed with grief. A flood of sorrow washes over me, as I watch them. Not just because of our Lord’s humility and an awareness of what comes next—a betrayal, a cross, a tomb. Yes, that. But something else too.
They’re leaving soon.
This beloved old couple. To build a house on her childhood farm two states away. And I haven’t let this sink in yet. The loss of their presence here, in our church and community.
The loss of their presence in my life.
But now it does. As I watch them wash each other’s feet at their last Maundy Thursday service with us, it sinks in.
There is gratitude in this moment, mingled with the grief.
Gratitude for their lives, for their deep investment in this church, this community, the college where they were faculty for so many years. Their investment in our denomination and the larger Church.
It’s fitting that this is one of the final images I will have seared into my mind of them together with us.
Kneeling like our Lord, with a basin and towel. Washing one another’s feet. Their marriage a beautiful sacrament of love and service.
They didn’t get to have a grand retirement celebration when they crossed the finish line at the college two years ago. Covid ruined that. A few smaller things were done, but not the celebration they deserve. No fanfare. No fireworks.
On the day they turned in their keys, they walked through the empty theater building one last time, remembering and speaking prayers of thanksgiving and hope, leaving a silent blessing lurking in each corner of every room.
Knowing their hearts, all of this seems right. This right here, this foot washing. This embodiment of humility, love and service. Can there be a better picture of what has characterized their 34 years in northwest Iowa?
Love poured out.
A life oriented toward the King and his restoration.
A basin and a towel.
They finish. He stands up and extends his hand to help her rise to her feet. Together, they carefully walk off the stage, down the stairs, and melt into the gathered assembly.
My cheeks are damp. My heart is full.
I look up at the screen and catch the final lyrics of the song, and I open my mouth to sing:
Oh, that rugged cross my salvation
Where Your love poured out over me
Now my soul cries out, “Hallelujah”
“Praise and honor unto Thee”
“Praise and honor unto Thee.”
This post is in deep gratitude for Jeff and Karen Barker—my teachers, my friends, my parishioners, my fellow artists, my partners in the gospel. It has been one of the greatest joys of my life to be your pastor and friend.