Mar 24, 2013

It began with a meal


Our sacred Easter Triduum begins this Thursday with the evening Mass of the Lord's Supper.  We are one body created by that one bread, Jesus Christ, given for us.  The washing of the feet of his disciples during that meal must have left them somewhat speechless and confused - all except Peter of course: "Simon Peter said to him, 'Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.'" (Jn 13: 9). Peter is ready to hit the showers! Don't you just love him?

The setting of the meal makes the act of foot washing even more impressive. They weren't sitting in chairs around a table - as we see in DaVinci's Last Supper painting.  As beautiful as that is, it isn't accurate according to ancient custom.  The Apostles and Jesus himself were reclining on the floor, on pillows, on their side and eating with their hands, not knives and forks.  Eating lamb and symbolic herbs, hearing familiar stories of Moses and the Egyptians, sharing cups of wine at certain points in the Passover meal, dipping bread, singing and conversing. 

As Jesus got up to wash their feet, they likely remained on the floor, strewn about with legs out on their side and puzzled as to Jesus' sudden change of position.  So, Jesus had to walk among them, stooping down, likely kneeling before each set of dusty feet and toes and bending over from his waist with a bowl of water and the towel, apron like, tied around his waist used to dry each set of feet. By now, they were likely accustomed to his unusual behavior at times yet wouldn't dare to question him but rather to wait for an explanation.

After he made the rounds of the twelve and confronted Peter with his impetuous yet sincere request, John tells us in the Gospel: "When he had washed their feet he put his garments back on and reclined at table again . . ." (Jn 13: 12). Now, back on the floor, he continues.

Why did Jesus do this?  "I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do." (Jn 13: 15).  And if that wasn't enough, he fed them as well - "Eat, this is my Body. Drink, this is my Blood." And if that wasn't enough, he then suffered and died for them. 

In every disciple gathered that strange and mysterious night in that upper room, is you and me.  We are Peter, Andrew, James, John, Phillip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot, and yes even Judas at times.  Each disciple can represent every man and woman. As he has done for us, so we must do for each other.  

Jesus' lesson that night was powerful.  It's memory has remained with the Church these twenty centuries that we will never forget to be a disciple of Christ is to do as he has done - even to washing one another's feet in humble and loving service. Is there a better definition of what the Holy Eucharist should create among us?

Let us prepare . . .