(This post was first published on April 21, 2011)
The Holy Thursday liturgy is rich with symbols and rituals. We commemorate the Passover meal, which was to be the last supper before Jesus`s death. Several themes are present: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the ordained priesthood, and the call to humble service. Which theme is highlighted and how the liturgy is celebrated can tell a lot about the theological leanings of the pastor and parish.
Here is one view from the pew…
Let us celebrate the Eucharist as the great sacrament of unity – a unity that transcends place and time. Holy Communion is healing food for us sinners. It is a source of energy on our spiritual journey. It should not be used as a tool of power or division.
In this scandal-ridden time of sadness and confusion, many of us are struggling with the exclusive and hierarchical nature of ordination. If Holy Thursday is a time to commemorate the institution of the priesthood, then we need to prayerfully ponder the meaning of priesthood for today.
The symbolic ritual of foot washing is too often a well-orchestrated spectacle. Many of us in the pews are immersed in the reality and messiness of service. We wash and care for our loved ones, from the wee babes to our elders. We teach and nurse. We serve and protect. We save and heal. We do this daily, without solemn processions and choirs singing. And, when we do, we aren`t surrounded by ministers and assistants carrying beautiful jugs, basins and fluffy white towels.
Rituals only have meaning if they are a sign of a deeper reality. Our church and our world are in need of true servant leaders. We are in need of men and women willing, like Jesus, to humbly bend before the feet of those they are called to serve.
5 thoughts on “holy thursday foot washing”
Here is a related comment on the Eucharist and foot washing by Richard Rohrer, OFM:
“There’s no real story of the Last Supper in the Gospel of John as we find it in the other Gospels. There is no passing of the bread or passing of the cup. Instead we come upon the story of Jesus on his knees washing the Apostles’ feet. Really quite amazing, and even more amazing that we never made the foot washing into a Sacrament! It is much more explicit in the Scriptures than many other actions we made into sacraments.
Perhaps John realized that after seventy years the other Gospels had been read. He wanted to give a theology of the Eucharist that revealed the meaning behind the breaking of the bread. He made it into an active ritual of servanthood and solidarity, instead of the priestly cult that it has largely become.”
I’m musing on why foot washing wasn’t declared a sacrament….brilliant thought! Thank so much for sharing Rohrer’s wisdom with us, Ray.
probably because it only applies to men and is close to the sacrament of holy orders
Well said. I especially like: “And, when we do, we aren`t surrounded by ministers and assistants carrying beautiful jugs, basins and fluffy white towels.”
One year, for my husband’s birthday, I gave him a statue of Jesus washing a disciple’s (Peter’s, maybe?) feet. It is a beautiful, humble reminder of how we are to live our lives.
A humble reminder, indeed! Doing the real thing always trumps doing it symbolically. 😉
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