Bathing, Bathing & Bathing

It would seem that the pages of this blog are earning its author a reputation as one always gadding about, seldom at home, minding his own business. Today’s offering is unlikely to assuage such concerns among my gentle readers. On Monday, I spent the evening in Manchester. I’d risen at 4.30am to assist someone, and had arranged to meet a fellow pastor for an evening meal. This is a practice I started before the Covid months and was something I was keen to resume. One church leader may have a heart-to-heart with another and exchange problems and solutions in a way no others can. I have never met with one yet who was not wiser than me. Rather than face the dreaded Mancunian motorway network with a full belly and a sleepy head, I booked a night’s cheap accommodation at a theological college, no less. The college’s ethos, though sincere, is rather different to our own. Its tutors seem most exercised by the climate crisis, community organising and theologies of liberation. Still, their accommodation was clean and warm, and off into bed did my weary body drop.

At 1am, I was awoken by a fellow guest taking a bath in the room above mine. The floorboards groaned under the additional weight and I heard some gentle splashing about. I did not really mind; I too like to perform my ablutions before bed rather than in a morning, and they must have had a later night than me. Indeed, my own 10pm shower might have disturbed a fellow guest for all I know. Eventually, I returned to sleep.

At 4am, I was awoken by another bath time. I wondered if I was dreaming. No, it was that bath again, and my fellow guest was in it. It was a quicker wash than the previous one, but it took me longer to doze off after its conclusion, for my mind kept trying to explain why he would bathe twice in one night at such early hours. Were there two of them? Then why the three-hour gap? Was he a bank robber, and had his hands and face sprayed by that special security dye? Was it some religious ritual discreetly observed by a theological student, who unbeknownst to him, was having his every movement traced by the occupant below? Was it someone washing their only set of clothes? Had he soiled himself in the night? The speculation went on.

At 6am, a third bath was run, ruling out theory number 1. By this time I was more accepting of my neighbour’s bathroom needs and that I was not going to wake up at 7am wonderfully refreshed and raring to go. This time, as the water splashed about and the floorboards once again creaked under the additional burden, I pondered the need to bathe. Most Westerners shower daily, some more often, yet few of them engage in the dirty agricultural work their forbears pursued. Bathing is required a great many times in the Torah, including after the release of bodily discharges and scape goats into the wilderness. Similarly, the Aaronic priesthood were subjected to a number of ritual washings, highlighting the need for holiness and purity. Yet in John 13:8-10, we read the Lord saying:

“If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”

Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.”

We, His people, are bathed and washed by His redeeming grace. No ritual washings for us, and no endless requests to be saved. Yet from the muck of day-to-day living must we be daily, or even hourly, cleansed and forgiven. Those who belong without believing, need to be washed entirely. Those, like Peter, who have been saved from sin, must merely wash those parts of their lives exposed to the contaminating vapours of the world.

I still know not why my neighbour ran three baths in five hours. If it was to make clean His soul, it failed, for a lifetime’s bathing in water and soap could not cleanse a human heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Psalm 51:7

Image by gefrorene_wand from Pixabay