Holy Thursday 2018: Carrying Within, the Dark and Light
In John 13:1-15, Jesus gives the disciples the heart of his mission. He shows them that they must learn how to receive his love by allowing him to wash their feet. This very human and tender act shows us still that we must allow Jesus to love us and to teach us how to serve other people in the messiness and confusion of life.
I always find it fascinating that in John’s account on Holy Thursday, he does not mention the Eucharist. This is the gospel of deep theological reflection and we would expect high interpretation of what the bread and wine becoming his Body and Blood would mean for us. John’s gospel does not even mention bread and wine. Instead, foot washing becomes a deeply moving and compassionate act, an act of his Real Presence. The meaning of this gesture is broad and even in our day and time; the holy action becomes a rich source of reflection.
What does it mean for us to wash feet from Jesus’ command? We learn to care for an infant and to wash his or hers body out of love. We learn to wash the body of a grandparent or spouse who is ill or dying, surely with love and tenderness. We wipe the nose of our kindergartener on his first day of school from the love we have for him in his nervousness. We bathe our teen with cancer. We care for people in nursing homes and hospitals, in daycare centers and in our own homes.
Jesus asks of us to step out of our patterns of comfort and familiarity. He asks of us to bend down to serve those who are trapped by our prejudice. He asks of us to go another mile for our children who are trafficked. He begs us to reach out to people whose disease we think comes from their weakness, like drug and alcohol addiction. He invites us with profound tenderness to wash feet of people we do not know or even people we do not get along with or people who have hurt us. He asks of us to cleanse the feet and heal the lives of prisoners and orphans, of widows and people marginalized by economics, race and language.
Foot washing is healing. It invites us into communion not separation. We cannot blame people for their dirty feet or the situations in which they find themselves. We cannot judge or bind. We are called to wash the immigrant and the elderly, the baby addicted to cocaine. We are challenged to wash the feet of our enemy. We are asked to walk in the shoes of a stranger, even when they do not have socks or shoes. Jesus invites us to wash when we would rather shun, to wash and dry when we would rather judge or condemn.
On Holy Thursday, we celebrate the Real Presence of Jesus at Eucharist and we remember him on the night before he died. This Real Presence is also demonstrated in the action of foot washing. This profound and tender act coming from Jesus is sacrament for us. His action binds us to love and this love calls for us to give love and service to other people.
Holy Thursday links Eucharist and justice, prayer and service. In this ancient Mass, I find my home this night.
Questions to consider:
How do you receive the love Jesus has for you? Can you accept his actions of tenderness toward you, his willingness to wash your feet with mercy and forgiveness?
Whose feet is Jesus asking you to wash? Whom is he asking you to forgive?
What does Holy Thursday mean for you? Can you sit with its many layers of meanings and find a home in Jesus actions of Eucharist and service?
How would you articulate the link of prayer and service in the Mass of the Lord’s Supper?