If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet.
This day is a very special day in the Christian world. It marks the end of Lent and the beginning of the Sacred Triduum - three very sacred days in our faith tradition. The celebration this night is so special that in each parish community there may only be one liturgy (except where a special consideration is made for the elderly with an earlier liturgy). For a very long time in our tradition, this celebration is so special, we hope everyone can be together in one celebration on this night.
Tonight we celebrate the gift of the Eucharist. We might celebrate the Eucharist every day, or certainly every Sunday, but tonight we celebrate its gift to us and its meaning in the context of the life giving story of Jesus' passion, death and resurrection for us. And, tonight, we celebrate the gift of ministry. We are not only the gifted tonight. We are given a lesson in how we are to give ourselves to and for each other. Tonight we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the gift of Priesthood to the Church, but on this night we solemnly reflect upon the gift of priesthood that we all receive from Jesus, as those who are bathed in him in Baptism.
With the Exodus story of the Passover tradition and with Paul's account of the Last Supper story, we are free to enjoy John's account of that special night. It has a dramatic feel to it. John doesn't tell us that Jesus gave us his body and blood at the supper and then after the supper washed his disciples' feet. He doesn't mention the gift of the Eucharist at all! This is not an omission. This story of the washing of the feet is the story of the Eucharist. They are identical in John. This story explains the Eucharist. It tells us what it means. By washing his disciples' feet, Jesus is saying, "This is my body; This is my blood; Do this in memory of me." And, he is also saying, "I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do."
This is why on this special night we act out the Gospel. We need to act it out to feel it, to let the experience of seeing it happen touch our hearts. By surrendering to his Passion and Death on the Cross, Jesus washes our feet. By being broken and given for us in the Eucharist, Jesus is giving us an example and a commandment for how we are to be broken and given for each other, by washing each other's feet.
The foot washing teaches several things. It is not easy to have our feet washed. They smell. They are not always very attractive. It is a part of our bodies that we rarely let others touch or caress. And, it is not easy to wash the feet of another. This is all a powerful drama representing the power of love. It is not easy for me to let you love me. It is not easy for me to love you. Parts of me are not very acceptable. I'll let you love certain parts of me, but rarely will I let anyone close to the "smelliest" and most unattractive parts of me. And, when I love you, I often will love you when you are most presentable or attractive. When you put me off or when you are not at your best, I don't do so well at loving.
Jesus loves us unconditionally, that is, without condition. He loves us, not because we deserve it. He loves us because we need loving. He tells us to love the same way. Tonight we are given his Eucharistic, self-sacrificing example of how to love each other. "This much," he says. "Love each other this completely, this freely, loving the most unattractive parts of each other, where love is needed most."
Tonight, when we watch this example of his love for us, and when we receive the Eucharist together, let us let Jesus love us. We can pray in our hearts, "Lord, I so desire for you to love me. I don't want to hold back, hold away from you, those unpresentable parts inside of me. I don't want anything covered up, anymore. I want to be transparent and free before you. Wash all of me with your love." And we might ask, "Lord, let your body and blood bring me into the most intimate communion with you tonight. Fill my heart. Push out all of the fear and anxiety, all of the anger and frustration, all the pettiness and lust. Fill me tonight, Lord, so that I might be filled with your peace and learn how to love others this way. Help me to give myself to those closest to me in the days ahead. Help me to be self-sacrificing, thinking of their needs first. Help me to serve them and care for them and to delight in losing myself in feeding their hungers. And, Lord, let me hear the cries, the hungers and thirsts of so many more of your people, not only close to me, but in my city and throughout the world. On this special night, let me taste your desire that we all be one, through our sharing of this Eucharistic love."
For a full preparation for celebrating Holy Thursday, see this resource: Preparing for Holy Thursday
For a larger image of the painting of Jesus Washes Peter's Feet see this link to the Tate Gallery.
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