Read: John 13:12-15
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord— and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
Foot washing and baptism. These two central Christian practices are centered on water. Water is central to our identity as Christians. On this day when we wash each other’s feet as a sign of our call to serve one another, it is worth reflecting on the ways in which water binds us together and tears us apart.
Water seems to always be on the move. It rarely respects human borders. From ancient times, people have recognized that whoever controls the flow of water has enormous power over those who depend on that water for life. Both in this country and abroad, there are looming conflicts over control of water. The water we use today as a sign of our service to each other is also being used as a tool to control others or to enhance our lives at the expense of others.
Water also must be clean. Dirty water sickens or kills millions of people each year. Pollution on an industrial scale threatens to render rivers and lakes lifeless. Our hyper-consumptive lifestyles are very costly when it comes to water. From fracking to the production of plastics to agribusiness, to crumbling infrastructure in cities, our water footprint is large and dirty.
On this day, it is good to remember that we Christians are water people. The presence and significance of water is deeply embedded in life of the people of God. Perhaps it is so common that we have taken it for granted.
We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life…. Now sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of your Holy Spirit, that those who here are cleansed from sin and born again may continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior. To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
(The Book of Common Prayer, p. 306-7)
Stephen Fowl is a professor of theology at Loyola University in Maryland.