Sometimes the work of justice is the work of healing. The hurts and consequences of injustices are not easily reversed. However, through the power of the Spirit, through the gift of forgiveness, through the service of justice– healing can move us to new places of hope, enabling us to continue the Kingdom work.
During my high school years, I experienced profound disappointment, hurt, depression, and ultimately injustice. There was a significant conflict that occurred within my youth group. And part of what made this injustice so painful was that it was happening within the church—a place that I had experienced as loving and safe.
While there were serious attempts for reconciliation, ultimately the youth leaders ended up leaving the congregation. This was very difficult for me because I had been particularly close to them. I felt very hurt over the unfolding situation and how people I had admired and respected chose to behave.
A few years after the initial crisis, I found myself at a Maundy Thursday service along with my former youth sponsors. As the meal progressed, I could feel the tension and unease within myself building. Despite the internal work I had done, it was obvious that I still had not fully released the situation.
During the time of prayer and preparation for footwashing, I sensed the Spirit telling me to offer to wash my former sponsor’s feet. While I had little desire to initiate conversation, I also had a sense that this would be a lost opportunity if I did not respond to the Spirit.
So, I approached her, and asked if we could be partners for footwashing. She readily agreed.
As we stood in line together, waiting for our turn at the basin, I began to cry. I was so overwhelmed with emotion—the hurt that remained, the disappointment that reconciliation had not happened, the fact that my life had been so deeply affected by the poor choices of others. As I sobbed, she slipped her arm around my shoulders and said, “Sherah-Leigh, why are you upset? I’m still the same person.”
And that was exactly why I was crying. Even in the years since the initial event, she still didn’t get it. It was painful yet also clarifying; here, I was being hurt and impacted by someone who had no idea that she needed to be forgiven. She was not sorry about what had unfolded. She did not see herself as culpable. However, it was clear that I was the one suffering.
It truly was a Spirit filled moment. In hearing her words, I realized that to authentically wash her feet would mean I needed to let go of all that had happened. I needed to forgive, whether or not she could receive forgiveness in the way I wanted her to.
Some people may find rituals empty or trite, but my life has changed through the ritual of footwashing. That night truly was a turning point for me, and ultimately a touchstone in my own journey of call.
It also reminds me that the Church is a place of healing and reconciliation. It is the home of forgiveness and blessing. Sometimes, rituals can help move us beyond the pain of injustice and towards wholeness.