Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. This is embarrassing and awkward. A servant
should be doing this. But even more, Jesus is their teacher and their Lord. Peter
argues with his doing it, but Jesus tells him he must do this so that the disciples
can be close to him.
That’s bad enough, but then, Jesus takes bread and blesses and breaks it and
tells them that this is his Body, and that they are to eat it as a remembrance of
him. And then, worst of all, Jesus takes a cup of wine and tells the disciples that
this is his Blood. He asks them to drink it. To really understand how horrifying
this had to be for the disciples, you need to understand that in Jewish law, there
was an absolute prohibition against drinking the blood of any animal. Part of the
act of koshering is to drain all the blood out of an animal so that it is gone when
the meat is eaten. To imagine drinking any blood, let alone the blood of a human
being, was a horrifying, disgusting thought.
It reminds me of my mother’s objections to Maundy Thursday. She used to
say, that with all the washing of feet and eating supper and so on, it just wasn’t
spiritual enough for her. What she didn’t understand was that these moments
are the most deeply spiritual of the whole Christian year. First of all, they are
intimate. Mothers wash their children’s feet, lovers may wash one another’s feet.
To wash another person’s feet takes humility and a good deal of love. And to eat
with another person is a personal thing, but to actually feed another person with
one’s own body and blood is a symbol of a profound love, an intimacy that we can
hardly grasp. But that feeding is real, and we will see it in the next two days as
Jesus pours himself out for us in love, as he literally gives his body and blood for
And these moments are spiritual because they ARE lived out. I know that a lot
of people say that they are spiritual but not religious. That can mean a variety of
things, but my experience is that often, what people mean by that is that they
like to think about spiritual things and have warm, lovely spiritual feelings, but
that they don’t want to have to live that out with real people, people who are
sometimes difficult or stupid or who hold objectionable opinions. They want
spirituality without any real obligation or accountability. They don’t want to
have to make their spirituality real in the real world. It might mean doing things
for other people that are embarrassing or difficult. It might involve washing
someone’s feet. But, of course, there is no real spirituality unless it is lived out.
That is part of what Jesus is saying. Unless we serve one another, unless we are
willing to pour ourselves out in love for one another, we are not really part of
Christ. The love of Christ is self-sacrificial love and it is always seen in real, physical
If we have any doubt about that, we only have to look at the Cross. Jesus gives his
life for us – not in some sweet, spiritual way, but in physical suffering and death.
The love of God is seen in blood and sweat and tears. It is ugly and frightening.
But it is real. We can never pretend that it is not.
We know that the story will not end here, that Easter lies just beyond the tomb.
But the disciples had no idea of that. I find it hard to imagine how the disciples
lived through those next couple of days. To have someone that you loved with all
your heart and on whom you had put all your hope, humiliated and tortured and
killed, must have been a loss almost beyond comprehension. I always find myself
praying for them and for any who suffer that kind of hopeless loss.
But the disciples saw what we have seen, that Jesus loved them so much that he
was willing to pour himself out, to empty himself, to give up everything, including
his life, for them. That is what is most spiritual about these days – it is love, love in
thought and word and, most especially deed. It is love that lays itself on the line.
It is love that gladly suffers for the good of another.
And in the end, we will know that this love is the strongest force in the universe,
that even death cannot overcome it. But for right now, let us live with the
disciples and with Jesus and know the true spirituality of these days. Let us
remember all those who live with fear and hopelessness, who have lost what they
loved most in the world, and let us pray for the grace to learn how to love, even in
the smallest way, as Jesus did, with our hearts and our minds and our hands and