I have written many sermons over the 14 years I have been a cleric and a Bishop. I have spoken about every aspect of every single feast day that I can imagine. And yet, for me, Holy Thursday and Good Friday are always special.
Today I want you to close your eyes and imagine the Upper Room. See the Disciples reclining around a table, enjoying each other’s company. Mary Magdalene is somewhere in the room and maybe even Jesus’ mother is there as well. These men and women have just come in from walking all around Jerusalem. They have followed Jesus through the streets, knowing that he could be arrested at any moment. Yet, they are at peace now. No one would be arrested at night, much less tried at night. So they could let down their guard and enjoy the Passover meal.
The disciples all washed their hands and prepared to feast. Then it happened. That one moment that confuses our intellect. Jesus gets up and begins to wash the feet of the disciples! Their feet were not pleasant to be sure. Yet, Jesus wrapped a towel around him and began to show them what a servant really was. Some protested. Peter refused to have his feet washed until Jesus told him he would not enter eternal life unless he let him wash his feet. Then Peter went to the other extreme and asked for Jesus to wash his whole body! This likely sent giggles through the disciples as they thought about the dramatic shift in Peter’s demeanor.
While this act is recreated every Holy Thursday, I seriously doubt any of us will sit for a foot washing with feet as dirty as the Disciples. Yet there is something very humbling about the washing of feet. It is a moment when we are truly united to the humanity of Christ. It is when we finally have the opportunity to understand just what it means for Christ to have humbled himself to become man for our salvation.
I have used, and I know others who have as well, the analogy of one of us becoming a cockroach in order to save all the cockroaches of the world. While it is still an abstract, it is the best we can do to understand how Jesus must have felt when he humbled himself to become man. But Jesus did not just humble himself and become man, he also took on the humblest of positions as a man, he became the servant who washed the feet of his followers. This was more like a human being becoming an ameba to save all amebas!
This is what it means to be truly Christian. We must be willing to humble ourselves to the lowest point one can in order to be truly a follower of Christ. As a Franciscan, I vowed to follow that humble call in my daily life. Have I succeeded? No. There is still a lot of pride in me. There is still a lot of growing I need to do. I pray that someday I will be a servant that will make St. Francis and Christ proud. I want to be the foot washer, the friend of the outcast and the one who hugs those sick and dying without fear for my own insignificant life.
As we go to our respective places of worship on this Holy Thursday, let us remember that the call of Christ, the mark of Christianity, is not one of honor, but of humility. Let us begin to practice that humility in our daily lives. Rather than sit in the front of the church, instead sit in the back pew. Volunteer to wash feet on Holy Thursday rather than to have your feet washed. Ask to visit those who are ill and alone rather than expecting people to visit you.
In doing so, we live the Gospel and obtain true salvation.