Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Thursday

“Jesus loved his own in the world
and he loved them to the end.”
So John begins his account of the last supper,
which presents us with the striking scene
of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.

“He loved them to the end.”
Not simply the “end” in a chronological sense –
the point at which something ceases –
but the end in the sense of a goal that has been reached,
a process that has been completed,
a task that has been finished.
Knowing that his hour has come
in which he is to pass from this world to the Father,
Jesus does the work God has given to him,
a work that can only be fulfilled by love,
a work whose completion he will announce on the cross
when he declares, “It is finished.”

The washing by Jesus of his disciples’ feet
is not simply an example of service;
it is an enacted parable of his whole life.
The water that he pours over his disciples’ feet
is the living water that he offered
to the Samaritan woman at the well;
it is the water that will flow forth with blood
when his side is pierced on the cross;
it is Jesus himself,
pouring out his life for his disciples out of love,
for it is through such love that he accomplishes the task
that his Father has given him to do.
Only when he has poured out his life
for the life of the world
can he say “it is finished;
I have loved them to the end.”

It is finished,
but it is still going on:
Jesus continues to wash our feet today,
as he pours out his life for us
through the living water of baptism
and in the Eucharistic feast of his body and blood.
Jesus still washes our feet
because he gives himself totally
for each and every one of us,
holding nothing back.

And this is what he commands us to do as well:
“I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
Our participation in the ritual of washing feet
is an enacted parable of our own willingness
to give ourselves totally
for each and every one of our brothers and sisters,
holding nothing back.

But there’s the difficulty.
We see in Jesus the completion of love’s task
but we also see in ourselves love’s failures.
As every person knows,
no matter how fully we seek to love
there seem always to be those moments when,
even with the ones we love most deeply,
we say, “I can’t tolerate another moment.
I can’t forgive that hurt.
I can’t love that far.”
We see in ourselves the pride,
the grudges,
the prejudice,
the lack of patience –
all of the things that stand in the way
of giving ourselves totally in love,
the the things that keep us from saying
“it is finished;
I have loved them to the end.”
We know that as much as we try to reach that goal,
we always seem to stumble.

And this is why we cannot simply wash feet,
but must also let our feet be washed.
Our only chance of loving as Christ loved,
of pouring out our lives
and holding nothing back,
is to let ourselves be loved by him:
to let him bathe our stumbling feet
with his own mercy.

On the night before he died,
Jesus gathered with friends and betrayers,
some of whom were one and the same people.
He knew the failures of love.
He saw it in Judas.
He saw it in Peter.
He sees it in us.
He knows that the feet he washes
are feet that will stumble,
yet he washes them anyway,
to bathe us in his own life poured out.
And bathed in his life we, in our own imperfect way,
can join him in love’s task,
called forward into another day’s living by his great cry of victory,
“It is finished;
I have loved them to the end.”