Washing Feet

Meditation for Holy Thursday 2020

Collect of the day:   God our Father, you have invited us to share in the supper which your Son gave to his Church to proclaim his death until he comes; may he nourish us by his presence, and unite us in his love; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

‘Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.  When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13, 1-17, 31-35

Of all the meditations during this week, the thought of the impact of the COVID-19 on our Christian practice is as profound as it can get.

On this day of the Great or Holy Week we are bound by tradition to give thanks for the institution of the Lord’s Supper – that central and vital Christian practice of gathering to proclaim the death and resurrection of our Lord with the ‘signs’ of bread and wine. The church has done this faithfully since the very beginning of her existence. This ancient practice has its roots in that Supper the night before Jesus dies. Three of the four gospels provide the text that is pivotal in the Great Thanksgiving Prayer of the holy Eucharist.

‘While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”  (Mark 14, 22-25).

Even before we have a record of these words written in a gospel format, St. Paul uses them when he writes to the Christian community in Corinth. (1 Corinthians 10).

These words of Our Lord, referred to technically as the Dominical Words have been at the heart of the worship where the people gather in faith. It is this sense of being gathered in faith around the person, words, and action of God in Christ, that we surely miss most of all in this year when the global virus is preventing us from gathering in worship. As a response in the church there has been all manner of imaginative technological ways of trying to ‘glue’ God’s people together in these isolating times. Nothing, though, can replace gathering around the breaking of bread and sharing of a cup, in substance, side by side with each other.

Ironically, it is after his supper in the company of his disciples, that Jesus himself goes into isolation. He goes to Gethsemane, where alone he has to confront his divine mission, both with fear and in faith. His tears are like blood droplets, such are their intensity, as Christ offers the world to the Father in heaven. His tears are always for humanity as his priestly oblation is presented – and no doubt those tears at this time, as in other times, will be like droplets of blood.

Our gospel reading, though, is from St. John, not one of the other three,  and his gospel only just mentions that Jesus is at a meal – and here he then departs from the other three gospels. In John, Our Lord washes his disciples feet, and he speaks of a new commandment, a commandment of love.

It is from this that the word Maundy comes from. The Latin translation of the Greek word for commandment (υπόδειγμα) is mandatum, from which we derive the word Maundy, a day on which the British monarch distributes a bag of specially minted coins in one the English catherdrals. Known as the Royal Maundy money this is symbolic of the act of love and service that we read about in John 13, today’s gospel.

There is much going on in this day of Holy Week, one of the three special days of the Triduum – and it is to this day we look to the action of Christ as example: the holy Eucharist is both our gathering around Christ with each other, but also our sending out to serve the needs of the world.

None could express the profound impact of the Eucharist within the life of the church better than a very significant Anglican Benedictine liturgical scholar, Dom Gregory Dix. He says this,

‘Men (sic) have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold: for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike…one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei  – the holy common people of God.’ (The Shape of the Liturgy. Dix, Dacre Press 1945 p744)


Let us pray:   Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you that in this wonderful sacrament you have given us the memorial of your passion; grant us so to reverence the sacred mysteries of your body and blood that we may know within ourselves and show forth in our lives the fruit of your redemption, for you are alive and reign, now and for ever.  Amen.

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