Every year at this time, I stop and give thanks. I give God thanks and praise that the Church decided that the thing it would remember about Jesus wasn’t the washing of feet but the sharing of bread and wine. Today is Maundy Thursday, the day when the Church remembers Jesus’ final evening with his disciples. It was, at least in the Synoptic accounts, the evening of the Passover Feast. Jesus and his disciples were gathered in the room that had been home base all week to share the sacred meal and remember God’s salvific work for their ancestors enslaved in Egypt. Over the course of the evening, there are three main events that are worth remembering: Jesus’ Meal, Jesus’ Pedilavium, and Jesus’ Mandate.
Jesus’ Meal: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
According to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, The Holy Eucharist is “the principal act of Christian worship.” In the midst of our corporate worship with offer God thanksgiving (Eucharist) for the gift of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, ascension, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. We do so through the sacramental signs of bread and wine; symbols of Christ’s body broken and his blood poured out on Good Friday. We do so in congruence with his own words, that it be done in remembrance of him. Through that remembrance (anamnesis), we are grafted into a two-thousand year-old practice and united with Christ and his disciples in that upper room. This will be the last Eucharist celebrated until Easter morning. We’ll go without the nourishment of Christ as we remember his death on Good Friday and keep watch at the tomb on Holy Saturday.
Jesus’ Pedilavium: “I have set an example.”
During that last supper, Jesus got up from the table and did something astonishing. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Jesus, always the teacher, explained to them what he had done. “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.” Just as we remember Christ’s gift of love in the Eucharistic Feast, we follow the example of that love by taking part in the most humbling and humiliating of activities that one human being can do for another (outside of areas covered by a bathing suit). We engage in this profoundly counter-cultural, shockingly intimate, utterly awkward act as a sacramental reminder of God’s never-failing love for us, and we’re lucky we only have to do it once a year because it is, at least according to John’s account, the sacramental act that fulfills the mandate of Jesus.
Jesus’ Mandate: “Love one another.”
Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos.
A new commandment I give to you: Love one another.
That love which Jesus commands of us is the agape sort of love. It is self-giving love. It is the love that compels God to send his Son to save the world. It is the love that motivates Jesus to stretch out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross. Agape love is deeper than writing a check. Agape love is more profound than getting up early on Sunday to go to Eucharist. Agape love is well beyond quiet times and Bible memorization. Agape love is washing feet, and it is the love that Jesus commands we have for one another. Maybe it was agape love that kept the Apostles from highlighting foot washing over the Eucharist, or maybe it was just a good PR person. Either way, I’m grateful for the choice they made, even as I remember the profound act of agape love that is the pedilavium.