Holy Week in El Salvador: Holy Thursday

This is the second in a series of stories which I am writing during this Holy Week...

"Not too many people will come," we were told.  Still, for the pastor Holy Thursday would clearly be a very important day.  He sent a Facebook message Wednesday night saying he was busy preparing.  Through the washing of feet the people would learn how to be the church.  So we got up early, and we drove out to the community.

The buses were still running.  They were full!  People were getting to their destinations before everything shuts down tomorrow.  "No one works on Good Friday," we are told.

The air was stifling hot inside the church.  A little circle of bright green plastic resin chairs was set before the altar.  Each chair held a Bible and a song book.  Two men were already seated in the circle.  One is blind.  Pastor Santiago looked lovingly at his friends of twenty-five years.  He said that between the two, it is hard to tell who is accompanying whom.  The blind man knows every pathway and crossing in the community and can make his way to the church on his own.  The two men laughed, knowing this is true.  They really are best friends.

Pastor Santiago put on his robe and his stole.  He lit the candles on the altar and handed a couple of coins to the evangelist.  She returned with two bottles of water.  The water for washing feet would be clean, cold water.  Pastor Santiago introduced each person in the circle - the blind man and his friend, a young woman, my husband and me, the evangelist and himself.  A little later another friend arrived, and a mom stayed for a while.  The pastor described to our little group each of the symbols that surrounded us:


A poster.  Jesus is holding the world and he is crying.  Pastor Santiago said he told a friend this week that in El Salvador, water for washing feet is scarce.  He reminded us that as faithful people we need to care for the water.  A verse from the Bible is written on the bottom of the poster: "There is no greater love than to give your life for your friends."  What friends?  The disciples.  The community.  The church.  Pastor Santiago reminded us that we are brothers and sisters who love each other, and sometimes we fight with each other, but really, we love each other.

A container of water.  The container holds more than water, it holds living water.  Jesus is the source of living water, with which we wash feet.

Kits in white plastic bags; in each bag a towel and soap.  The pastor said we would see how these towels would help us to wash feet.  I recognized these as hygiene kits that are faithfully put together by Lutherans across the United States.  A shipment from Lutheran World Relief was delivered to the Salvadoran Lutheran Church in February of this year, and most of the kits have been distributed to families who need them.  Pastor Santiago had placed these kits in plastic bags for Holy Thursday.  I thought to myself, "This is a beautiful way in which to share these kits."

We sang.  We read the scripture from John 13 which describes Jesus washing the feet of the disciples and identifying Judas as the one who will betray him.  The sharing of insights around the circle was profound and inspiring.  There is much to ponder...

After the sermon, Pastor Santiago set the stage for the washing of the feet.  "How can we be brothers and sisters together in our community?  How can we be brothers and sisters together in the church?  How can we be churches working together?  We can only do this if we practice.  We have to wash each other's feet."

Pastor Santiago handed the kits to the men and to the young woman.  It was a little bit like Christmas morning as they unfolded the towels and pulled out the soap, toothbrushes and other hygiene items and placed them into the plastic bags.  The towels would have their first use drying feet.


In the manner of Jesus, Pastor Santiago took off his robe and put his towel over his shoulder.  Everyone took off their shoes.  Each one would follow the pastor's example and wash the feet of another.  This may have been the most joyful foot-washing devotion on the planet today.  We washed and tickled and laughed and simply had fun.



We sang and we prayed.  Then we ate chicken tamales.  Jesus always shared food with his friends. Children had colored images of the Last Supper during Holy Week Vacation Bible.  The pictures were taped up on the walls around us.  We talked about the tradition of sharing communion on Holy Thursday, and some of the things the sister churches in the US do on this day.


The men gathered up their kits, and we shared hugs and good wishes for the rest of Holy Week.  The pastor reminded us not to celebrate in secret - that Holy Thursday is a day for a great banquet, that all are welcome, that the door should remain open.  The next time the community will gather for worship will be Easter Sunday.

The remainder of the group decided to continue work on a painting project that we stared earlier in the week.  As we painted, folks in the community passed by, and the sun rose high in the sky.  Every so often we would stop painting and sing out "Hoooolaaa!" to someone we have not seen in years.  Young mothers and fathers, who we have known since they were little ones in Sunday School, whose baptisms and confirmations we celebrated, were coming home for Holy Week.  Young mothers and fathers walked up the hill and hugged us with all their might, and their own little ones quietly blinked in wonder.  We took family photos.  We chatted about the changes in our families over 5, 7 or 10 years.  We made plans to meet at the church on Easter Sunday.


When the sun was too hot to bear, the painting team walked down the hill to share lunch in the evangelist's home.  Her girls made bean soup with egg.  This was a very thoughtful choice.  They know that the bean soup made in this home is my favorite.

Bean soup with rice and a hard-boiled egg
After lunch, we walked back up the hill, gathered up our paint supplies and prepared to head home.  The gifts we received this day were beyond special.  It was a very holy Thursday.

Story #1:  Palm Sunday

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