The image is from a wedding at which bride and groom, Edie and Glen, washed each other's feet as a sign of the marriage covenant they were entering. "What image of love shall we use to capture and celebrate the significance of the commitment Edie and Glenn are making? Jesus Christ offered us an image of love grounded in self-giving service. In a confronting demonstration of this serving love, Christ washed the feet of his followers at their final meal, and told them to do likewise. As part of their covenanting with each other, Glenn and Edie will follow the example and command of Christ by washing each others feet..." Image and quote by Marcus Curnow: for more on Glen and Edie's wedding, see The People's Table.
Homily for Holy Thursday 2008
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
How fitting that we begin the celebration of the Triduum,
our celebration of Christ our Passover,
by remembering Jesus gathered with his friends for that meal
in which he gave himself to us
in the bread and cup of the Eucharist.
And how very odd,
that the gospel this night should tell of the Lord’s Supper
with nary a mention of "bread and cup,"
not a word devoted to “body and blood,”
not so much as a hint of "food for everlasting life."
John devotes a whole chapter of his gospel
to Christ’s flesh as real food, his blood as real drink;
but in telling of the last supper,
he mentions not a word about the Eucharist.
While Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul
all write of food blessed, broken, poured out and shared,
John alone, writes about – FEET!
John seems not at all concerned
about what’s ON the table,
but rather, focuses totally on what’s UNDER the table: feet!
road-worn, calloused, dusty, muddy,
feet needing to be washed…
Down through the centuries,
Christians have argued and debated about the Eucharist:
what it is, and what it isn’t;
how it happens, and who can make it happen;
what it is, and WHO it is;
is it real, or just a sign,
who may receive it, and who may cannot.
Over all these issues,
positions are argued, books are written,
and, sadly - Christendom divided.
But not so with feet! Not so with feet…
No arguments, disagreements or theological distinctions about feet!
No denominations splintered off by a question like:
“Were the feet at the last supper real - or merely symbolic?”
Certainly for Jesus, dirty feet were very real.
In both images, of course,
in bread and cup, and in the washing of feet,
Jesus gives himself to us as our servant,
and calls us to serve one another.
In the bread and cup of the Eucharist
he shows us that his body will be broken and his blood shed for us,
so that we might have life, and have it to the full.
And at the same time he calls each of us
to offer ourselves:
our lives, our desires, our time, our possessions,
our contentment, our power, our prestige, our status –
he calls us to offer everything we have
that it might be broken, poured out, and shared,
in service of our neighbor.
Washing feet is not nearly as sophisticated
as breaking bread and sharing a glass of wine,
but it certainly makes the point
with no room for ambiguity, misunderstanding or argument.
And even though John doesn’t write about it,
we can be sure that bread was broken and a cup blessed
after Jesus washed his friends’ feet.
It is not as though we can pick one image or the other -
we need both.
We need the reality,
the feel of dirty feet in our hands, over a basin,
to remind us that we are servants of each other.
And we need the nourishment of the supper
to feed us, strengthen us, to lift our spirits,
to remind us that mutual service in Jesus’ name
brings us into the holiest of all holy communions.
In a few moments,
we will prepare the Lord’s table for the supper he gave us
on the night before he died.
We will offer, bless and break bread;
we will offer, bless and pour the cup;
we will feast on the simple meal and promise Jesus gave us
in this most holy sacrament.
But before all of that, we shall “look under the table,”
for feet to be washed.
I can pretty much assure you
that no one’s feet here tonight really need to be washed.
But I can guarantee you that we, you and I,
need to wash each other’s feet - whether they need it or not –
because we need the practice.
watch what we do here:
watch what we do with feet, basin, bowl and towel…
watch what we do with bread and wine.
Watch for the connection between what happens
UNDER the table and what happens ON the table -
and in the connection,
see the life we are called to live BEYOND the table.
“Who is greater,” Jesus once asked his friends,
“the one seated at table - or the one who serves?
“Is it not the one seated at table?”
And yet Jesus is among us as one who serves,
calling us to serve one another as he has served us.
(We invite all to come forward tonight
to have their feet washed, and to wash feet.
If you wish to participate in the foot washing,
please remove your shoes and socks (both feet)
before leaving your pew.
Once your have had your feet washed,
you will wash the feet of the next person in line.)
As Jesus said:
“If I, your 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.”