Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Maundy Thursday washing of the feet

Here is the 2004 Maundy Thursday homily of Fr John Klassen OSB,  Abbot of St John's Abbey, Collegeville, MN USA. 

In her long poem "Feet" Denise Levertov wrote:

"I watched a man whose feet were neatly wrapped in green plastic.
He entered a restaurant that advertised a $2.00 special — Sloppy Joes.
And I saw him come out immediately again.

"It was cold and wet,
and I was taking shelter under the awning,
waiting for a bus.
The man was angry.

"'What happened?'
He looked at me —
'No shoes,' he said.
We all know the rubric —
No shoes, no shirt, no service."

You can drag dirt into an eatery with shoes
but not with feet covered in plastic.

On this holy night,
we remember the Passover of the Lord.
The readings are a treasury of meaning
and hold together in powerful ways.

The foot-washing scene in John's Gospel
has no parallel in ritual meals of the Judaism of Jesus' time.
It is innovation, par excellence.
In the time of Jesus
the streets would have been filled
with human and animal waste.
The washing of feet was usually done by a slave.
That is why the disciples are stunned
when Jesus takes off his outer garment
and puts a towel over his shoulders
and begins to wash their feet.
Peter, of course, speaks what everyone is thinking and feeling.
The first level of meaning is that of humble service.

But there is another level of meaning as well.
In biblical times the hands and feet symbolize human activity.
It is with hands and feet that we sin.
With the echo of Psalm 51 in our minds,
to wash them, to cleanse them,
is to wash away sin,
it is to forgive.

When Jesus urges his disciples to repeat this action
he is not merely talking about washing of feet.
He is insisting that we forgive one another
as he has forgiven us,
that we love one another
as he has loved us.

What about hands?

We remember Jesus
as taking, breaking, giving bread and wine.
The handing over of food and drink
became an embodied symbol
of that other "handing over,"
the "handing over" when Christ,
betrayed into the hands of sinners,
surrendered his body to death on the cross.

Human hands connect Eucharist and cross,
Holy Thursday and Good Friday;
hands outstretched to take, break and give;
hands cupped to hold, receive, eat and drink;
hands nailed east and west on a cross.

On this holy night,
we pledge once again to use our hands and feet
for the work of forgiveness,
for the work of loving each other.
We pledge to wash each other's feet,
to hand over our lives for each other,
for the sake of the world.
We pledge ourselves to do Eucharist,
to do this in memory of the One who gave His life for us.
We do so because Jesus is our Passover Lamb,
who takes away the sins of the world.


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