28th March 2013
John’s Gospel, 13: 1-15
Tony van Vuuren
The end of our Lenten journey is brought into sharp focus this evening, as we begin the celebration of the Triduum. During Holy Week, we have lived the summit of this journey, and now Jesus enters Jerusalem to perform the last step, summarizing his whole existence: he gives himself totally; he doesn’t take anything for himself, even his own life.
Starting with the celebration of the Last Supper, the events of the next three days are inextricably bound together as the three most sacred and important days of the year; the nucleus of our Christian faith….the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. During the Last Supper, with his friends, he shares the bread and distributes the chalice “for us”. The Son of God delivers into our hands his Body and his Blood to always be with us, to dwell among us. And later in the Garden of Olives, as in the trial before Pilate, he offers no resistance, he gives himself totally; even though he sees the filthy flood of all the lies and all the disgrace which he will encounter in the cup from which he must drink; the entire flood of this world’s evil bursting upon him.
Every mass that we celebrate here on a daily basis is a memorial of the Last Supper; but Holy Thursday night is a true anniversary of the night before He was given up to death; commemorating the institution of the sacrament of the Eucharist and that of Ministerial Priesthood; and on that same evening Jesus gave us a new commandment; the commandment of brotherly love.
The liturgy for Holy Thursday includes Paul’s account of the “institution of the Eucharist” and complementing it we have John’s Gospel account of the “washing of feet.”
The excerpt from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is the earliest written account of the Last Supper and Jesus’ words of blessing over the bread and the cup of wine. Jesus tells his disciples “Do this in memory of me.” He is doing more than commanding them to continue celebrating the Eucharist. He is not only breaking bread and pouring wine; but in the broken bread and the cup he is breaking and pouring himself for them; asking them to remember his total surrender to the Spirit of Life and Love; and his enduring love for each one of them …and doing the same for us at every mass. When we take the bread and eat it and drink from the cup we are mindful of the bonding with Jesus; of the Spirit at work in our lives in the ordinary, in the everyday, and in the desire to love and serve as generously as Jesus did.
He continues to give and make himself available when our broken spirits need healing, our sins forgiving, and our lives need direction. In the Eucharist, Christ is truly present to us; despite the times we have forgotten him and rather remembered the world’s distorted criteria for living. We need our damaged memories awakened and refocused.
Jesus says to us “Do this in remembrance of me.” And so we do.
In the Gospel account John tells us that the hour of Jesus’ Passover has arrived; and that
Jesus knew that God had put everything in his power. In the same sentence though John describes how Jesus takes up the humble task of servant, washing his disciples’ feet.
Rough, worn, dirty feet that for three years had walked many dusty miles with him. He washed them with humility and love and sadness, knowing what awaited him in the hours ahead; even washing the feet of the one who was to betray him.
Perhaps as Jesus held those feet he thought of where these friends had been with him, and where their feet would take them in the years to come as they would carry out their mission that he was about to give them.
Using our imagination, picture ourselves as Peter, with Jesus kneeling in front of us; arguing with him about letting him wash our feet. We are too proud or too unworthy to allow such an act and we want to resist; but looking deeply into his eyes and hearing Jesus’ words of love and compassion we realize that he is in control. We give in and ask to have our hands and head washed as well. We listen to His patient response; He is in control and names the terms of His humble act of service.
We feel his carpenter’s hands gently washing our feet and then gently drying them. This is what it means to be humble enough to receive from someone else. We pray for the grace to serve as we have been served.
By this simple act Jesus has touched us at the deepest level of our heart and we know that we will never be the same again.
His words give us the direction that our lives need to take;
“If I, then, the Lord and Master have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.”
Tonight, in imitation of our Lord, Fr Harrie will wash the feet of 12 EMHC, representing all those parishioners involved in some area of service and ministry in our community, committing themselves to service and discipleship.
We can see in the washing of feet a chance to reflect on our baptismal commitments and to prepare for the Vigil service when we will renew our baptismal promises. Tonight we all recommit ourselves, with the help of the Eucharist, to a full time, lifetime commitment; offering loving service to others in Christ’s name.
The towel and water jug, like the cross, are just another reminder to all Christians of what we celebrate this evening and at each Eucharist: Christ came to serve and give his life for us. After we have received the Body and Blood of the Lord tonight and have had our feet washed, we are sent on our mission, to wash the feet of others. We must follow his example, both at the altar of the Eucharist and at the altar of life.