- Fr Anthony Charanghat
On the night of Maundy Thursday, when we remember the institution of the Eucharist - the source and summit of Christian life, the Church in her wisdom proclaims John's good news of the Washing of the Feet. Not only is the foot-washing a vivid picture of 'mercy in action,' but it is also a dramatic commentary on the selfless giving of Jesus' life. It spells out a perfect summary of the selfless service that His life, death and Resurrection was about.
On the night when 'the hour' dawned, Jesus showed whom He loved how He will love them to the end. He begins to dispossess Himself: tonight of His garments, tomorrow of His life. That night, He Himself laid aside His own garments; the next night, His clothing will be ripped from Him by others. Wrapping a servant's towel around Himself, He washes their feet. Jesus puts on visible signs of His love; later, naked on the Cross, He will be wrapped in nothing, but His own blood.
Here is the Lord and Master, reaching out to those in need; in need of recognition, of forgiveness, of encouragement. Here is an action of service offered without distinction, including the one who is to betray Him, including those who will shortly abandon Him. No one is outside this embrace of communion. After the foot-washing, Jesus returns to the table, to help His disciples to understand what He has done. He says, "If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also have to wash one another's feet."
Blessed by the loving service of Jesus, they are now called to be given, broken, consumed in the service of one another. The way out of the room leads to Gethsemane and Golgotha, to the self-giving, the breaking, the consuming of the Servant in passion and death, and the affirmation of His love by the Father, when Jesus passes over into His Resurrection. This is communion; this is what the Eucharist is all about.
But there is another narrative told to us in the liturgy of the Last Supper. It weaves in and out of this washing of the feet. St Paul tells us the deeper meaning of all that is taking place within this circle of the friends of Jesus. He tells us that on this very same occasion, 'the night before he was betrayed,' Jesus took some bread, blest it and broke it, and said: 'This is my body which is for you.' Then He took a cup of wine, and said, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as a memorial of me.'
The washing of the feet and the giving of the Eucharist are inseparable, if each is to be fully understood. Our service, one to another, finds its source and inspiration in the act of total self-giving which is Jesus' death on the Cross. And that death, and the triumph of His Resurrection, is made constantly present to us in the Eucharist. For, as St Paul has said, "Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming His death."
The Lord lifted up before us for our imitation in the washing of the feet is the same Lord who comes to us in His life-giving death and resurrection, in the Eucharist we celebrate and the Holy Communion we share. So we have to recognise that without practising the service Jesus shows us, we fail to fulfil the Eucharist we receive. Without our many works of service leading us to the Cross of Jesus and the Eucharistic heart of that service, we fail to understand the deepest meaning of the memorial of the Last Supper.
The message of Maundy Thursday offers a radical challenge to our conventional ideas of political and religious leadership, that lusts after entitlements and privileges at the cost of human dignity and equality, be it in the first century Palestine or our own 21st century.
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