“But Father Matt,” said the young man, about age ten, “why do you want to wash people’s feet?” Good question, little man. The short answer is I don’t. I don’t want to wash anybody’s feet, and that’s precisely the point. If washing feet were particularly fun, everyone would have always just washed everybody’s feet. But this is the Maundy, which means I am commanded to wash some feet, so here we go.
“Mandatum novum do vobis.” That’s Latin for “a new commandment I give unto you.” Saint John recorded those words of Jesus in what is now the thirteenth chapter of his Gospel. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” That you love one another as I have loved you. If we are to love one another as Christ loves us, then it might be helpful to know how Christ loves us, so that we might do the same. Now, Jesus loves us in ways innumerable and in ways we may not always comprehend, but He did leave us some examples of how love, how His love, which is the love of God, shows itself. The example that headed up this sermon is the washing of feet. Now imagine that you are hosting a dinner party for Queen of England, and imagine that the twelve other guests sloshed through mud and dung and who knows what else and then dragged their disgusting feet into your house right before dinner. Not the prettiest picture. Now imagine that there is no running water, so you can’t just toss them outside and hose them down. You have to get down on your knees, drag the bucket of water and cloth with you to each person, and wash their feet. Not many people would volunteer for the duty, but because it’s a needful thing, it must be done. Now imagine the Queen taking off her coat, getting down on the floor, and washing everyone’s feet. It would be an uncomfortable scene, a scene that flips everything upside down. Certainly someone should be washing the Queen’s feet, not the other way around. Now imagine watching the God the whole universe can’t contain washing everyone’s feet. That’s humility, that’s graciousness, that’s love.
The other example of how Christ loves us is the other name for tonight’s celebration: the Feast of the Institution of the Eucharist. It was on this night that Jesus gave us Himself, gave us the Mass that we celebrate every day, it was on this night that He gave us the means of life itself. So many people will tell me how spiritual they are, and I guess that’s good, but then I always tell them how materialistic God is. Sounds weird, but if God spent time and energy, then He would spend an awful lot of time and energy on stuff. God thought the universe out of nothing and not for nothing. God fashioned us out of the same stuff He had made just a few days before; He cares deeply enough about our bodies to have His Son take a body Himself. And as His Son was preparing to lay down His mortal body for us, He gave us something material, bread and wine, and He told us that if we just do as He tells us, He will change that material, that stuff, into His actual Body and Blood. The fact that Jesus did that is borderline ridiculous. The fact that we get to do it is totally ridiculous. But that’s love.
A new commandment I give to you, Jesus said, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, He said, if you have love for one another.”