It’s time to leave the beach, and I dread making the announcement.
The beach has become a reprieve for me in the busy days of parenting our three little boys. They were born within three years, so we never had time to store the stroller. I just kept squeezing them in and strapping them on—the youngest in the proper seat, the middle son curled into the fabric basket beneath it, and the oldest straddling the stroller’s canopy.
Aside from a few squabbles over the good goggles and the buckets without cracks, the boys have been happy and entertained for hours. They are slippery with sunscreen. Sand clings to every inch of their skin and sticks in the creases of their chubby arms and legs.
But now it’s time to go. I try to soften the blow, “In five minutes, we’re going to start picking up our toys.”
“Noooo!” They protest and go on digging, scooping, and filling their sandpits with scoops of water, only to watch it seep away.
I shade my eyes and scan the beach for misplaced towels and water bottles. I toss forgotten shovels and rakes into a mesh toy bag so the sand will gradually fall off and stay at the beach. Sweat trickles down my temple, and when I wipe it away, I realize I’ve swiped sand from one side of my forehead to the other.
Finally, I give the fun-squashing direction, “It’s time to leave. Go wash off in the water.”
Shoulders slump. Heads drop. Protests erupt.
I herd them toward the water to wash away the sand. If they weren’t slathered in three applications of sunscreen, the process would go faster. I remember that hogs supposedly use mud as a sunscreen, and I try to make light of this task. “You’re muddy as a little pig. This sand caked on your neck probably kept you from getting sunburnt.”
The joke goes unnoticed, and as I’m dipping them in the lake, trying in vain to flush away oily sand, the fun officially stops. I’m irritated, and I start barking commands. “Stop. Hold still. Stand up.” I wash one son and send him to put on his flip-flops, but the sand is hot and burns his toes.
“Stand on the wet sand and wait for me,” I holler. He does, but not without kneeling in the sand…again.
When I have completed our de-sanding ritual, we pile toys and towels onto the stroller, and I shove it across the beach toward the car.
For the next 30 minutes, my life goal is to keep sand out of the car, as if my salvation depends on it.
If I can just stay ahead of the chaos to stave off my kids’ meltdowns and messes, then (I falsely believed) I was doing well and pleasing God. This manic race for cleanliness reflected the striving in my heart to stay in God’s good graces.
Back then, I didn’t understand that as a believer in Jesus, my standing before God was fixed. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection on my behalf, I was already in his good graces. In fact, I was “blameless in His sight” (Ephesians 1:4) regardless of how many meltdowns I was mitigating or how many pounds of sand I had to vacuum out of my car.
But on that hot summer day at the beach, I didn’t understand that yet.
So I brush off sand, wipe hands, shake towels, and bang flip-flops together.
Then, from under the stroller, I retrieve my most important ally in my war against sand: my ice cream bucket of cool water. I set it on the pavement, and I lift each boy by his armpits and dip his feet in the bucket. They swish their little toes around, and the water turns brown.
After I buckle them in their car seats, it’s my turn to wash my own feet.
The water is dirty, and my feet don’t really fit in the bucket. I stand on top of my sandals while I try to get every last grain off. Finally, I leap from my sandals into the car. I lean out the driver’s side door and grab my sandals to bang off the sand. Then I swirl the bucket’s sludge into a watery vortex and fling it into the parking lot.
Finally finished, I look around the car to discover that somehow, we are all still covered in sand.
I am reminded that foot-washing has always been a futile chore.
During Holy Week, Jesus knelt in that upper room to wash the feet of his disciples. Their feet were covered in dirt and dung left in the streets by livestock. It was a smelly job. By the time the twelfth pair of feet was clean, the water was filthy. The basin was half-empty, and the towel was sopping and gray.
Was Jesus shaking the towel, flinging dirt, wondering how in the world he was going to keep everything tidy?
I don’t think so because Jesus’s main goal wasn’t clean feet. “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 1:37), he told them.
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” All of Peter’s bold-acting, fast-talking, hard-driving devotion to Jesus couldn’t keep him in God’s good graces. Peter didn’t understand that Jesus wasn’t as concerned about his feet as he was about his heart.
Friendship with Jesus requires a clean heart, but only Jesus can clean it up. Only he can brush away the oily sludge of angry insults we lob at people we should love. Only he can provide the solvent that cuts away the gritty sin that chafes, causes infection, and eventually brings death.
But Peter didn’t understand that yet because the cross was still to come.
Jesus would wash all his disciples’ feet that night as an example of service in a degrading and futile chore. Jesus would love them to the end. But they would still flee, deny, and betray him because a foot-washing, even when given by Jesus, doesn’t permanently cleanse the heart.
In a few short hours, Peter’s feet will be soiled again. He’ll kneel in a mudpuddle made with tears over his denial of the only Savior who could make him spiritually clean.
At the cross, Jesus endured the punishment that Peter—and you and I—deserved. He felt the burning wrath of his Father against the sin that injures the people he loves. The futility of scrubbing away dirt to make oneself appear holy will finally be revealed for what it is: a symbol, not a solvent.
God will wring from his Son the true solvent—the only detergent that can permanently wash away the sin that clings.
A few weeks later, the Resurrected Christ will invite Peter to walk along the beach and talk. With one question asked three times—Do you love me?—Jesus will assure Peter that his place in God’s Kingdom is secured. He’s been permanently cleansed, even if there is sand stuck between his toes just now.
It’s time for him to leave the beach too. He’s got good news to share. Jesus doesn’t say, “It’s futile.” He says, “It is finished.”
Remembering Holy Week: A 5-Day Devotional
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