I’m not sure why I always have a visceral reaction when I walk into the church on Holy Thursday and cannot dip my hand in the holy water. I feel startled when I see that there is no water. I feel disoriented. It is a foreshadowing that I am about to enter something different, something that should rock me to the core. The Triduum has begun. Are we ready for what is to come?
The Gospel story of the washing of the feet is a truly beautiful example of serving until the very end.In the Second Reading of 1 Corinthians 11, we are told how Jesus instituted the Last Supper–This is my Body that is for you….Do this, in remembrance of me. The footwashing in John 13 is the complementary action to the Synoptic Gospels’ Last Supper. Both are an act of love, a supreme act of service. Both are an example of how we are to live our lives.
If we truly are paying attention to the readings, we should have another visceral reaction. We should be startled that the Lord of the Universe is stooping down to wash our dirty feet.We do not really understand the intimacy of this act unless we have had someone wash our feet. Most of the time, our feet are clean when we do this ritual. They do not have the dust of our lives visible. I have only had my feet washed once by a priest and once in a ritual of service on a retreat weekend I was at. In the later event, the team did not know it was going to happen and there was no time for prettifying our feet–no pedicures, no de-odouring, and no hiding the warts. Both times were meaningful but still we may miss the fact that really, footwashing is not about us. It is about Jesus giving us an example of serving humbly right to the bitter end.
When the cancer within me had metastasized to the point where nothing more could be done, I remember saying to close friends that I wanted just to continue living out my last days in service. Tonight I realized that this is what Jesus did. I thought I knew this fact, but tonight, I really understood it. A number of people have remarked that I keep serving–being a lector, acting as a Eucharistic minister, praying for people, visiting those in prison, heading committees, spending time with my ailing parents. I do not know of anything more I would rather do. I want to serve until my last breath. Tonight I understood why for the first time. I do this in memory of Jesus. I do this because Jesus gave me an example.
Even tonight, after the service, I chatted with someone who will come into full communion with the Catholic Church on Saturday at the Vigil. This person was feeling unworthy. We were in close proximity to the stunning stained glass window I posted a few days ago, of St. Ignatius at the river in Manresa. I asked this person if they knew the story. I explained that in a week I would be there in the same place. I would first go to Montserrat where Ignatius would lay down his sword and his former life–just like we all must do when we follow Christ. We are not all born saints. Some of us have pasts that seem more tainted than others. God will love us anyway. In fact, God sent Jesus to redeem us and to make us all worthy. Contemplate on St. Ignatius, I offered, giving a farewell hug. Ignatius took service seriously. He is a good example of the Example.
Earlier in the day, I had a conversation with one of the health professionals who has been part of my team for years as I dealt with chronic pain issues. He has served me beautifully as a practitioner and as an advocate. He has been a cheerleader for me too. He had sent me a beautiful card after my surgery. I left it up for months, touched by the encouraging words both on and in the card. He had not seen me in over a year and he had not heard the news about the return of my cancer. At the very end of my session, he admitted that he was very angry that I should not continue to live a life of service. Some people squander their lives but I, in his perspective, did not. I lay on the heating pads in the darkened office crying. I have said it before, but I truly have no idea the impact of my life on people. I have been so blessed by this professional. I am deeply touched by his words. I managed to pull myself together before the staff came to retrieve the heating pads.
So many of my friends have said how much the news sucks. I agree that it does. I had wished for much more time and had big plans on how to serve God after my retirement. Instead I look for ways to serve God now, in small everyday ways, getting my feet dirty and knowing that Jesus waits to wash them. As much as having my plans curtailed is disappointing, I also know that on some levels this does not suck. That is the paradox of our faith. In 33 years, Christ led a full and precious life. So have I. I will continue to live fully until I draw my last breath. Tomorrow we fully enter the Passion. I will have a visceral reaction to the story. I pray you do too. Christ’s body is broken for us. We are worthy and we are called to serve until the end, in remembrance of Jesus.
What are you doing to serve as Christ did?
As you listen to the readings this Triduum, what startles you most?
Barefoot Christ, you wash the dust off our souls, purify our spirits, and call us worthy. May we follow you into the world and serve those in need of your hands, your compassion, your mercy. Let us remember you in daily, humble acts, in unexpected conversations, and in ordinary moments. Help us to follow the example you set out for us. Amen.