Holy Thursday, 2006
When was the last time you had your feet washed at a dinner party?
In our modern day western culture, a good host would more likely offer you a cold drink and a comfortable chair.
Jesus was the consummate host.
In his day, a good host demonstrated hospitality by providing for the washing of his guest’s feet.
By doing this washing himself, Jesus breaks through all barriers of status and rank to declare his desire for mutual friendship with his people.
It’s not surprising that Jesus chose the meal as the supreme way for us to remember his death on the cross.
His choice is consistent with the Jewish Passover tradition and his own public ministry.
Jesus was often found dining with sinners and outcasts,
welcoming them into his friendship.
It might even be said that his scandalous dining habits were the
historical reason for his death at the hands of powerful religious
and political leaders who saw him as a threat to the status quo.
Jesus wants to build a community of friends who love and serve each other unto death.
We are called to be part of this community of friendship and service.
In the waters of baptism his love washes over us
and we are welcomed to the table by Jesus, the consummate host
and most faithful of friends.
Tonight I would like to invite you to an experience of imaginary prayer in the spirit of St. Ignatius Loyola, who, like Jesus, calls us to labor with God in the world as friends and servants of the kingdom.
I invite you to be open to transformation as Jesus reaches out to you in friendship through your contemplation of tonight’s gospel passage.
So, to begin this spiritual exercise,
take a few moments to remember that you are in God’s presence.
You might begin this contemplation by looking at your feet.
[Lights dim, instrumental music begins.]
In your imagination, look up from your feet,
and notice the details of the upper room in Jerusalem.
Perhaps you are drawn to the flickering light of the oil lamps
or the remnants of bread and wine spread out on the large, low table.
Where are you seated in the room?
Perhaps you are directly across from Jesus whosegaze has just met your own.
Perhaps you are sitting on his right or on his left, close enough to hear the beating of his heart.
How does it feel to be present with your friends on this special night with Jesus?
How do you think Jesus feels about your presence?
You watch Jesus stand up and remove his outer garment.
He ties a towel around his waste and pours warm water into a basin.
He looks across the room at you, and approaches you with the water.
As he kneels down at your feet, you remember your arguments and power plays with the other disciples earlier that day.
You had been debating, again, about who would sit next to the Master at the Passover feast.
They’re all looking at you now, but all you can see is Jesus.
The look in his eyes tells you that he knows what you’re thinking.
He reaches out for your foot.
“Master, are you going to wash my feet?
You will never wash my feet.”
With a knowing smile Jesus replies,
“Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.
I want to show you how much I desire your friendship.
I want to teach you how to be a friend, a servant to my people.
You have no need for status and honor, you need only to know how much I love you.”
The warm water feels good on your tired feet.
The words of Jesus sound so beautiful and true.
Friendship. Love. Service.
His words wash over you.
His hands loosen the caked-on dirt and grime from the long road to Jerusalem.
You recall the many people Jesus has served and befriended during your travels with him on that road:
The poor and the oppressed.
The blind and the lame.
The grateful leper and the woman with a hemorrhage.
The tax collectors and the simple fishermen.
The woman at the well.
Martha, Mary, Lazarus,
. . . and so many others.
You feel a desire to be generous like Jesus,
a desire to love like Jesus.
You wonder again what Jesus means when he speaks of his impending passion and death.
As he gently dries your feet with the towel,
you notice his deep joy in this humble act of service and friendship.
After washing the feet of the others,
Jesus reclines at the table again.
A new spirit has filled the room.
It seizes your imagination and speaks to your deepest longings.
“Do you realize what I have done for you?” he asks.
“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.
[Lights brighten, and instrumental music ends.]
I invite you now to once again look at your feet.
Now look around this upper room
at the faces of the friends you are called to serve.
Look beyond the walls of this building to the world that cries out for your friendship and service.
Let the love of Christ wash over you,
and you will be a servant too.