The disciples had been walking everywhere. Their feet were likely hard with calluses, bunions, caked with dirt, sand, grime, not to mention sweaty and smelly. Yet, in order to reinforce to them the meaning of being a humble servant, Jesus washed the filthy feet of His friends.
I have participated in Holy Thursday services for many years, and I have had the experience of washing and drying other people's feet as well as that of having my own washed. The most poignant example of servitude when this gesture really hit home for me, though, was not Holy Week.
The most moving foot washing experience I've ever had took place one morning during our Cursillo Team overnight in an upper room at Richmond Hill (a place that is most decidedly holy ground). It was Saturday morning and there were thirteen of us sitting in a circle in a room with a huge wooden cross standing by the wall. On a table in the center of the room was a pitcher of water, a large bowl, and some towels.
I thought that we would do what we had done at some churches on Holy Thursday and each have our feet washed, then help wash someone else's feet. That's not what happened, though. Two women who are both very loving, selfless, humble servants (and, therefore, were perfect leaders for our team) asked us to remain seated as they came around to each one of us. We sang hymns while they gently and lovingly washed each person's feet and wiped them dry. I never realized how much tenderness and affection could be conveyed in such a simple act. Many of us were brought to tears, we were so moved by the experience.
Jesus knew that those He had spent His public life with, the people He had loved as family, those with whom He entrusted the Truth about Himself were not going to be there for Him when He suffered such brutality, anguish, and humiliation. He chose to have His last meal with the very people He knew would betray Him, deny knowing Him, and disperse in a very short time.
I don't know about you, but I have a hard time sitting across from people and sharing a meal with them when I think they might say or do something hurtful. Christ knew for sure that they were going to betray Him, yet He still drew them close to Him, expressed His love for them, and gave them the most precious way of remembering Him once He was no longer in His familiar human form.
That was when He instituted the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist, as He took the bread and wine, and taught them how to remember the Passion after the Resurrection, when food and drink made by human hands would, by the power of the Holy Spirit, become His Body and Blood.
"Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed."
This reflection was originally written and posted on my former blog April 9, 2009.