The liturgy for this day includes the ritual of foot washing. Many of us participate in that part of the liturgy.
Washing the Apostles' Feet (top); Last Supper (bottom.) Panel from the Maesta Altarpiece of Siena, 1308-1311. Artist: Duccio, di Buoninsegna, d. 1319.If one were to write an icon for this Holy Day the icon would include Jesus, Peter, the other disciples, a basin, water jug, towel, and a table on which the Passover meal was set. I would paint Peter as both indignant and wistful – as one wanting Jesus’ love and fearing it. And the other disciples might be portrayed as surprised, annoyed, confused or loving.
What is the message of such an icon?
If we were to engage in the liturgical act of washing the feet of another, or having our own feet washed, some of us might feel awkward, embarrassed, or reluctant; or we might welcome the tender touch of hospitality. Some fear touch. It is good to accept a loving act – a life-giving gift and an invitation to share in Jesus’ ministry of grace.
In John’s gospel account of the Passover meal, (John 13.1-15), the foot washing happens before the giving of the bread and wine. The washing is a preparation for receiving the gift of Jesus’ life. It is a willingness to open one’s self to God’s loving touch. The disciples did allow Jesus to wash their feet and to be their servant, teacher and Sovereign. Jesus then imparts the gift of his life to them: “This is my Body broken for you; this is my Blood poured out for you. Take and remember. Do as I have done for you.”
As we accept the life of Jesus into our lives, we are enlivened and we shall seek to serve others in the name of Jesus. Many opportunities are given – the offering of food and other material goods; words of encouragement; care of the vulnerable; loving touches; messages of hope.
The actress, Marlene Dietrich wrote a “kitchen slogan” which reads: “Don’t complain in the morning about a day’s work. It is so wonderful to go to trouble for the people one loves.”
As we share in the solemn rites of Holy Week, may we be open to experience God’s immense love through the powerful message of Holy Scripture; through the loving ministries of Jesus, our Sovereign’s disciples; as we receive the Eucharistic bread and wine; and as we hear Jesus’ invitation to serve and care for one another.
“So let the love of Jesus come and set thy soul ablaze, to give and give, and give again, what God hath given thee; to spend thyself nor count the cost; to serve right gloriously the God who gave the worlds that are, and all that are to be.”
(from a hymn by Bishop Geoffrey A. Studdert-Kennedy)
Br. David Bryon Hoopes, OHC, is Prior of Holy Cross Priory, Toronto