First, let me wish you a blessed Good Friday. This is the day we commemorate or recognize the day our Lord died on the cross for us. But first, I want to go back a day to the evening of the Lord’s Supper, which is presented in John 13:1-15.
Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come
to pass from this world to the Father.
He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.
So, during supper,
fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power
and that he had come from God and was returning to God,
he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.
He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples’ feet
and dry them with the towel around his waist.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,
“Master, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“What I am doing, you do not understand now,
but you will understand later.”
Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered him,
“Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”
Simon Peter said to him,
“Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”
Jesus said to him,
“Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed,
for he is clean all over;
so you are clean, but not all.”
For he knew who would betray him;
for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
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.”
During Mass on the Evening of the Lord’s Supper, in Catholic Churches around the world, the priest celebrating Mass re-enacts this scene. A group of twelve is invited to the front of the congregation where they sit, remove their shoes and socks, and the priest washes and dries their feet. Pope Francis did this himself this year, as well.
If you as a member of a congregation have ever participated in this ritual, you know it’s a humbling experience. Before going to Mass you make sure your feet are clean, you wear clean socks that have no holes, and you wear your best shoes. And then you find yourself up before all your fellow parishioners to have a man you admire – your parish priest – humble himself to wash your feet.
Now imagine how the disciples felt. Their master and teacher, Jesus, who has taught them about the Father and about the holy life and the hereafter, and who has healed the sick and cared for the poor and cast out demons, even raised the dead, humbles Himself by washing their feet. And once again, He teaches them, giving them a model to follow.
As I think about this ritual, I reflect on the life of Jesus, the Son of God. Throughout humanity’s relationship with God, we have seen Him as the untouchable burning bush, the voice from on high, the rumbling thunder, the power that etches the ten commandments into stone, the Almighty that breaks opens the sea and the folds it back to quell the pursuing Egyptian army, even the name that must not be spoken. And then suddenly, God comes to us as this gentle, loving, giving, healing, compassionate, humble divinity who takes human form. He lives among us, lives as we do, suffers as we do, speaks as we do, even shows a temper as we do. In fact, the Bible tells us that Jesus the Christ lived in every way we do except for sin. And in His final night, Jesus humbled Himself to wash the feet of His disciples.
In His final act of love, Jesus is then arrested, beaten, taunted, nailed to a cross, and dies. He suffers the ultimate humiliation of Crucifixion, exposed for all to see. Talk about humble.
The washing of the feet is a prelude to Christ’s crucifixion and glorious ascension into heaven. I read a meditation on this ritual that said that this observance today is a way of washing away the dust of life and ushering us through Good Friday and into the Easter celebration.
Today, then, we are in the midpoint of this holiday. Today we remember Jesus’ death. But we are also mindful that it was through His death that He was to be reborn and that in His death and rebirth that He made it possible for us to be reborn. In so doing, he has given us a model, a path, to follow.