On Sunday, our focus was on the triumphant entry of Jesus in to Jerusalem and we had the palm to remind us of this great event. Today, throughout the world, in churches everywhere, the focus is on the washing of the feet – an act that Jesus did to his disciples which is re-enacted every year. Not only is our focus on this symbolic gesture, this day also reminds us of the institution of the Eucharist. How then do we connect these two moments in our celebration today?
During the time of Jesus, foot-washing was not primarily a ceremonial custom. It was practically important because people walked in sandals through dusty, muddy and manure-filled streets. Your feet got dirty and smelly. Not surprisingly, washing someone else’s feet was regarded as one of the most demeaning tasks anyone could perform. It was reserved for household slaves.
In order to understand why Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, we need to look at two gospels, that is, Luke and John. In Luke’s gospel, just before the Passover Meal, there had been a discussion among the disciples as to who was the greatest among them. By washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus demonstrated his greatest act of servant leadership. This overwhelming gesture made a lasting impression on the disciples, not only because it expressed pure love, but by washing their feet, Jesus laid the foundation for true servant leadership; one that has become the model for Christians today. In other words, Jesus’ model for a Christian is SERVICE.
The institution of the Eucharist is not just for the sake of a remembrance, but is meant to remind future generations that the coming together of the Christian community is meant for service. Many people think that the Eucharist is purely personal sanctification. However, the Eucharist, by its very nature is MISSION which means to be of service to one another. If we pay close attention to the words of the Eucharist, there is a progression from the moment we sign ourselves with the sign of the cross at the beginning till the final blessing. The whole celebration is concluded when the Presider sends forth the community for mission.
Seen from this perspective then, we can understand that the washing of the feet and the institution of the Eucharist is deeply connected. By example, Jesus was teaching his disciples that those who want to be great in God’s eyes allow themselves to be less in the eyes of man. A true servant leader offers to perform tasks no one else will do. To serve as Jesus did for the benefit of another shows the deepest level of love and humility. The Eucharist inspires us to express this deep love for one another in our daily lived experiences. In the little things that we do for one another, we continue the mission of Jesus in coming to establish a new Kingdom. This Kingdom is rooted in service and love for God and one another.