In the ordinal of the Episcopal Church, if we can still call it an ordinal, there’s an examination, witlessly called The Examination – you can find it on page 531 of the Book of Common Prayer. In the second paragraph, the ordaining bishop tells the about-to-be-ordained priest that he will be expected to proclaim the Gospel by word and deed, to fashion his life in accordance with the Faith, to minister to the people and celebrate the Sacraments, and then, at the very end, there’s this mush phrase: “and to perform the other ministrations entrusted to you.”
The other ministrations entrusted to you. I’ve been entrusted to some interesting ministrations over the years: digging graves, jumping into sinkholes, chasing roosters. Every priest at one time or another will fix a toilet or paint a wall. I haven’t really minded any of these things, but it is only by the overflowing grace of God that I get past washing feet on Maundy Thursday.
But blessed John tells us that Jesus washed the feet of His disciples and commanded that they follow after His example, and since blessed John was there and we all take him at his word, well, feet will be washed.
“I give you a new commandment,” Jesus told them that night and us this night, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus then gave examples, because people are not generally too bright and we might mistake kindness or niceness for love, real love. The washing of feet, the humble service expected of those who lead; the Covenant of life and love and everything we know to be holy and good, all wrapped up in the bread that becomes His Body and the wine that becomes His Blood; and then His final example, the laying down of His life for His friends, a greater love no one can know.
The Church, in her wisdom, knew that if we didn’t follow in Christ’s footsteps, if we didn’t actually do the things He did on that first Holy Thursday, we might not get what He was talking about at all. And so here we go, first to the basin and then to the altar, that we also be of humble service, that we might lay ourselves down as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.