There are two powerful symbols and rituals that we gather today to commemorate. This is the day, as our service began, that the Lord gave the holy feast we call The Eucharist. This is also the day that our Lord took a towel and washed the disciples feet. Two very profound and deep rituals that have shaped Christians through out the centuries. If these two great gifts are not enough for us tonight, Scripture reminds us of a third. Tonight we receive a new commandment to love one another as God loves us (John 13: 34). It is easy if we are not careful to get lost in all this imagery and symbolism. However the one thread that ties all of tonight together is the new commandment, to love as God loves. We see God’s love in the Eucharistic meal and we see God’s love in Jesus washing the feet of those who will betray him and deny him. Tonight, through Jesus’s actions we are invited to do the same in the world.
Often as Holy Week draws closer the inevitable question comes up, “why do we wash feet on Maundy Thursday?” If we think about it, logically we may realize that in Ancient Israel walking was the primary means of transportation. Cars and the sky train came much later. We can imagine that after walking great distances the part of our bodies most dirty would be our feet. So in a way, logically washing feet makes sense for Ancient Israel. In our day and age, we do far more with our hands than our feet, so logically it would make sense, as one colleague of mine said in seminary, that we wash hands. Hand washing is an important part of daily life in maintaining good health as the fastest way to spread disease and germs is via our hands, not our mouths. Think about that for a moment before intincting, dipping the wafer in the wine with your hand, during communion.
The significance of foot washing however, has very little to do with what is logical. Jesus washed the disciple’s feet as a symbol of servant ministry. This is the primary symbolic action of Jesus demonstrating that the Christian life is one of service. More than this even, washing feet brings us in touch with our humanity. In experiencing having our feet washed we are reminded of God coming into our world in the flesh to share in our humanity. In this way God says that we matter to God. Everything about us matters to God. Unlike going to a doctor’s office, God is interested in all of us and all that makes us; not just the one complaint or ailment we have today. God came into our world to experience our world and the condition of human life. In this way God becomes intimately aware of our aches, suffering, pain and concerns. God shares in these as God shares in our humanity. We matter to God, matter matters to God and that is why Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and that is why we wash the feet of others.
What better way for God to show how much we matter to God than through the Eucharist. On this night, like so many other nights, Jesus shares in a meal with his disciples. What is it about tonight that makes this meal more significant than the one the previous day, the previous week or at any other time. This is the night, when everything seems to go so wrong. You would think that by now the disciples and Jesus would be a close knit group. Unfortunately not. They, like so many of us, experience jealousy, greed and fear. They were all afraid. They were afraid of one another, the stranger on the street and perhaps most of all they were afraid of Roman Rule. So hear they are, in the capital city, gathered in a room, in the shadow and darkness of the city, trying to go unnoticed and unrecognized.
What could be the one thing that Jesus could do to help his friends remember him and remember everything that they have accomplished together? A meal of course. Think about it. Jesus uses a meal, something that they will be doing everyday and says, “remember this. Remember tonight and all that happens tonight.” We have done so ever since. We know, instinctively that it is through sharing food that relationships are formed and community is built. We know we feel better when we walk through the front door after a long day to the smells and aromas of a home cooked meal. We know that when we invite friends over for dinner, or are invited ourselves that we are loved and belong. We matter to others as they matter to us. God is known and remembered in the gathered community when we break bread, pour wine and invite the stranger to be our guest.
Do you see the thread between washing feet and the Eucharist? Do you see the thread of God’s unconditional love for you and I. Tonight we are reminded of how much we matter to God and how much we are loved by God. The Eucharist and the example of servant ministry through washing feet, forms the template of the the new commandment we are reminded of tonight and through out Scripture. Because of tonight we are invited to once again love one another as God loves us. This is what it means to live the Christian life. This is a way of life that is challenging and causes us to be uncomfortable and come face to face with our own humanity. Loving as God loves, means that we too will have to get dirty and wash the feet of those who will betray us or cause us harm.