So when he had washed their feet [and] put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” – John 13:12-15
In his Holy Thursday homily last night, our pastor Fr. Peter Richards encouraged us to reflect on why, in St. John’s gospel, Jesus interrupts the Passover meal to do something incredible: wash the feets of His disciples. Washing another’s feet was the job of the lowliest of servants: St. John the Baptist uses a similar comparison to tell his followers how far above himself the Messiah would be: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals” (Mark 1:7).
Why would Jesus do this? Father encouraged us to contemplate how great the Lord’s love for us is, to allow ourselves to receive that love, and to yield to it…to surrender to the One who gives Himself entirely for our good.
Here’s what occurred to me during and after his homily.
As Father mentioned, St. John’s gospel devotes chapters 13-17 to the Last Supper. Interestingly, in each of the other three gospels, the Last Supper takes up less than a single chapter. Yet in those five chapters of St. John’s gospel, the words we hear at every Mass (this is my Body—take and eat; this is the cup of my Blood) do not appear. Instead of focusing briefly on the institution of the sacrament of Holy Eucharist, St. John begins his account with an act of utmost humility and love—the washing of the feet—then records the words of Christ as He prays for unity of His followers and promises His spirit to sustain them in communion with Himself and each other.
This seems particularly profound to me, in this time when so many of us are struggling with being unable to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. What St. John conveys in the Jesus’ own words is a deep, spiritual communion of hearts and minds, bound in charity, united in Him, and enlivened and empowered by the Holy Spirit. And He doesn’t just mention it; He expounds on it at length.
Honestly, in the past I have struggled with these discourses: one-in-me-as-I-am-in-Him-and-He-is-in-me. But now I think, during the silence and darkness of Good Friday, from noon to 3 PM, I will spend some time with these chapters, and see what He is trying to say to me.
Another local priest, Fr. Kyle Kowlaczyk, posted a lengthy discussion on Facebook a few days back on our desire to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion versus our desire to be and remain in communion with God, His Church and each other. I suspect that what Jesus is telling me through the washing of the feet and His Last Supper discourses in St. John’s gospel is something similar to what He told the woman at the well:
“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” – John 4:23-24
Come, Holy Spirit!