“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? If I, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” Words from our Gospel this evening from the 13th chapter of the Gospel according to St. John – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
Have you ever been to one of those really fancy restaurants? You know the kind: the one with the posh rooms and large wait staff. Of course, an extravagant restaurant will have quite the team assembled to serve your every need in order to make yours an elegant dining experience. There is someone to park your car, someone to bring you water, someone to take orders, the chef and the kitchen staff who prepares your order and make up your cocktails, someone that comes along to scrape the bread crumbs off the table, and now the hostess comes along to make sure everything about your meal is perfect besides… But of course, on this team, some roles are better to play than others. Let’s say someone famous or wealthy comes in for a meal, and the manager happens to ask the staff members, “who wants what role?” Everyone will be clamoring for face time with that famous individual, at the very least to get a good tip, but even for the chance to say that they met so-and-so. But very few would be the first in line to be the bus boy – Sign Me Up! In addition to being paid the least, no one wants to clean up the mess or wash the dirty dishes. On this restaurant’s staff, or on any staff, there is a pecking order; some roles are better to play than others.
I want you to imagine that you are on the wait staff for the Last Supper. Take a moment to place yourself in the Upper Room. Put yourself in Jesus’ time and imagine you and the rest of the wait staff are about to help Jesus and his disciples celebrate the Passover meal. The manager comes to everyone and asks, “Who wants what job?” You hear people saying: “I want to be the valet: Jesus, you want to come into town in style, I’ll arrange the most awesome procession into Jerusalem, fit for a king…” Someone else declares: “I’ll be the waiter: Jesus, you want bread and wine for 12, no problem – I’ll put that order right in…” And then the manager asks, “And so, uh, any takers to be the foot washer?” Now think for a second… People travelled in Jesus’ time by walking from place to place in the heat and the sand with only sandals on their feet (if they wore anything at all). And because they didn’t have chairs in the ancient world, individuals went to their place at the low-lying table on the floor and reclined next to each other, almost so that your neighbor’s stinky and sweaty feet were actually sticking out by your face. Ooh look at that fungus – gulp – I’ve rather lost my appetite… Are you kidding, that’s not healthy at all! Well, that’s how it was in the ancient near east. Washing people’s feet was a disgusting but necessary job, reserved for the lowest of the low. “Are there any takers for the foot washing?” the manager asks once again. As the scene unfolds before you, Jesus himself jumps in before anyone else can answer and says, “I will do it. I will do the foot washings. Give me the towel. I want my disciples to know that I came to serve and not to be served.” And then picture Jesus turning to you and saying, “And yet, if I your Lord and teacher have washed your feet, then you also must wash each other’s feet in humble service – you too must take up the towel.”
Jesus commands us to follow in his example and take up the towel, which symbolizes our role of service as members of his Body. Imagine the difference we could make in the world, if we stopped looking out only for ourselves, but instead put others first, serving them and their needs, washing their feet. The world is obsessed with power and status and having made it. The world’s version of love asks how do you fill me, serve me? Jesus, on the other hand, has a different notion of it means to be a people of love.
As I was going off to seminary, my grandmother gave me a gift that personally reminds me of this spirit of humble service. (Showing a Towel) Wanting to give me something I could use in the dormitories, she obtained a number of towels and had my name embroidered on them. I don’t think she realized the significance of her gift – though neither did I at the time. I look at this towel now, and feel as if she gave me more than simply a towel. She gave me the team uniform of the Catholic Christian. This Jersey even has my name on it! I am part of something bigger than myself: I am part of the Body of Christ – the same Christ who gave totally of himself in service and in love. As Jesus simultaneously instituted the Eucharist and the priesthood, he did so with a towel in his hand. As a priest, my role of service on this team is to spiritually wash the feet of God’s people as they travel life’s journey. I am to serve the flock of God’s people with a shepherd’s care, who daily lays down his life for his sheep at the altar table of the Eucharist. To serve you in this way, at this Mass of the Lord’s Supper especially, is a celebration of all I have given my life to. It is a special moment for me, for us. Earlier this week, I was with the bishop and my brother priests at St. Joseph Cathedral, and together we renewed our priestly vows and our commitment of service to the Church of Buffalo. And tonight, I join priests throughout the world in demonstrating our commitment to that spiritual service to you by once again taking up the towel to wash the feet of God’s people.
And yet as we all share in this Eucharist, each of us are incorporated into the Body of Jesus Christ. As part of Christ’s Body, you too have a role of service to play. If you would share in this communion, take up the team colors; take up the towel of Christian service. There is a jersey that has your name on it. You have a great role to play on God’s team: as parents, as children, as teachers, as students, as doctors, as lawyers, as garbage workers, as waiters, as bankers, as carpenters, as politicians, as police, as secretaries, as Catholic Christians. We all can imitate Christ in the context of our own lives. In fact, it is our duty. In a world that struggles to love, you can be a witness to the love of Christ by the way you offer your life in service. So, yes, claim your inheritance in Christ. Let your feet be washed. Be made clean. Receive God’s grace. Be nourished by the bread of life. By the mercy of God who has given himself over for our sake, be made whole once more. But realize that if, indeed, your master and teacher has washed your feet in this Eucharist, then you also must do for one another. This grace is not for us only, but is meant to be shared. So, take up the team colors. Take up the towel. Take up the towel and bring the love of Christ to the world.
In just a few moments, we’ll be celebrating our Christian work of service and charity as we commemorate the washing of feet. Anyone and everyone is welcome to come forward to have his or her feet washed.
After celebrating the Passover with his disciples, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He invited his disciples to remain with him and to keep watch with him. Indeed, we will now be travelling with Jesus, present with us in this Eucharist, to a place of prayer. We are going to proceed to the Chapel next-door. For our procession, we will be carrying lighted candles. When the altar servers pass you by in the main aisle, be sure to light your candle and then share your light with others. The altar servers will lead our procession through the Church, followed by the clergy with the blessed sacrament, and then as the procession passes by you, you are welcome to follow along as we make our way over to the chapel.
At this time, please kneel.