These sacred days of our Lord’s Paschal Mystery begin with a meal. Not just any meal but the very Passover meal which Moses commanded the Israelites to commemorate–the covenant of blood that the Lord God made with his Chosen People when he freed them from slavery in Egypt.
Now the Son of God has transformed this annual Jewish celebration into another kind of covenant, a new and eternal covenant which Jesus made by his sacrifice of himself on the cross for us. He offers us a lasting memorial in his own blood. Jesus Christ is the perfect Eucharistic sacrifice made once for all. We celebrate here and now on this altar what Jesus established twenty centuries ago, celebrating the same and single sacrifice he made…Take and eat…do this in memory of me…This is the Passover of the Lord…Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father…
Within the solemn moment of our Lord’s Last Supper before he died, Saint John tells us that Jesus gave us an additional commandment for us to keep. If we hope to share together in this Eucharist which he handed down to us, we must also share another act he also committed to us. I have given you a model for you to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do…You ought to wash one another’s feet. What Jesus has enacted is clear; but how do I grasp that what Jesus did also applies to me? How have we managed to so completely forget this requirement for our Christian life, our Christian Eucharist?
Many people among us do good out of the goodness of their hearts–they are kindhearted and generous souls. Yet do we consider our behavior in the context of Jesus’ last commandment? Do we do what we do to wash one another’s feet, as washing one another’s feet? Are we just being nice or a cut above what most other people neglect?
In Jesus day, washing feet was the common task of a slave and part and parcel of unpaved roads and filthy streets: an obvious necessity. In our day, such a courtesy would be anachronistic. But given that context, we can understand the scandalized reaction of the apostle Peter. What is the Master doing now?!! He’s embarrassing me, acting like this! Never will you wash my feet! Some of the apostles had already allowed Jesus to wash their feet but Peter couldn’t take it any longer and takes a stand. Jesus then replies in a most unexpected way: If I don’t let me do this, Peter, you can’t be a part of my life. So the volatile Peter swings to the other extreme and Jesus has to reel him back in: no, just your feet, Peter. But now I want you to go and do just what I have done to you…
Poor Peter! He’s in trouble again. It was bad enough to see the Master act like this, but he’s requiring me to do the same thing?
Well, it would seem that Jesus certainly does require Peter to do the same thing. And he requires it of each of us as well.
The actual anachronistic action of washing someone’s feet has fallen into ritualistic practice–merely a part of a ceremony. It may even seem to confer dignity on the celebrant rather than degradation or humility. So how might I find ways today to really obey this serious demand of Jesus if I hope to have my share in him? During these sacred days, if we do nothing else, we would do well to think about my relationship with others and what would constitute washing their soiled feet. Jesus commands this of each of us, to be part of him. Do I have the humility? Or the love? Do I dare?
-Abbot Robert’s homily for Holy Thursday