With the words I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you (1COR 11:23) St. Paul begins the recounting of the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples before his crucifixion. Tonight is one of the few times when many Christian Churches have special services in the evening as we begin the “high holy days” that tell the stories of what is called for many our “salvation history.” All the stories are known to us and by now many of the faithful could rattle off the order of the services, the prayers and some of the hymns that are as familiar to us as our own names (even – for those who are old enough – the Latin lyrics!). There is a special comfort in these rituals that call us back – through over 2000 years of history – to events whose essence has been preserved regardless of dogmatic accretions, religious wars or heresies. Tonight it is just about Jesus and his desire to be with his friends, this desire heightened by his sense of the danger that is building around him. John’s gospel says that he loved his own in the world, and he loved them to the end. (JN 13) In an effort to show them this love while they were at supper, Jesus began to wash their feet, a startling thing for them as it was always the task of servant rather than one called “Master”. A startling thing indeed for us to hear, for Jesus was clear that the tradition was changing. Now we are all called to do the same for everyone we meet. “Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus said. “Stoop in humility to those who need a hand, a friend, a favor, a great sacrifice from you.” Wherever we see a need we must be ready to answer – as he was.
Tonight in the Catholic Church that I attend, it will be the priest who becomes the servant of all and actually washes feet. Later we will re-enact the walk to the Garden of Gethsemane, the scene of disappointment where the disciples with whom Jesus had just shared so intimately fell asleep while he was praying to be spared what was to be his fate. There will be people, myself among them, who will stay after the service to ponder the events that have taken place and the anticipation of what is to come. It will be late by then. How long will I be able to stay awake? How far will my mind wander? Will anything be changed in me by my participation in this ritual of remembrance? I hope so…as I always do.