Today begins another Triduum, another plunge for the faithful into the strange events of Jesus' last days. One of the strangest of those somber events is Jesus' decision to take the towel during the Passover supper and wash his disciples' feet. Even his closest disciples are caught totally off-guard by this act of slavish servitude. We can almost see Peter as he defiantly jerks his foot away from the basin: "Jesus, you will never wash my feet!" But this is, in fact, a sign. Even more, it Jesus suggest that wearing the towel and lathering the dusty bunions is a way of disciple life. If the master stoops to do it, so should even more the student. "A new commandment," He says--a new commandment of love that, come to think of it, shouldn't really sound all that new to us. BUt now we have a real clear example of what that love looks like and how we are to bear it out amongst us as disciples.
But the footwashing is just a sign of the love to come. Stooping even lower, Jesus will wash the ugly feet of an entire universe with his own blood. These are strange events, indeed. Carrying the commandment further...should we be willing to die for one another? For the master?
This Maundy Thursday also happens to be the commemoration of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the twentieth-centuries most noted theologians. He was hanged by the Nazis on this date in 1945 for his suspected role in an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. He spent the last two years of his life in a concentration camp. Whether or not Bonhoeffer may claim the title of martyr for the faith, his death brought the end of life to one of the most compassionate and courageous voices of Christianity in one of the most difficult times to be a follower of Christ. Concerning the footwashing hallmark that illustrations Jesus' new commandment on Maundy Thursday, it occurs to be that Bonhoeffer's life and writings contain numerous references and examples of simple servitude to the neighbor.
From his Life Together, a small volume that is actually addressed to Christians living in community:
“The second service that one should perform for another in a Christian community is that of active helpfulness. This means, initially, simply assistance in trifling, external matters…Nobody is too good for the meanest service. One who worries about the loss of time that such petty, outward acts of helpfulness entail is usually taking the importance of his own career too solemnly…Only where hands are not too good for deeds of love and mercy in everyday helpfulness can the mouth joyfully and convincingly proclaim the message of God’s mercy.”
If Jesus' footwashing is an example of humble love and service; if the cross is our ideal of God's love for us; if Christ, the master, intends that his disciples are known primarily for their love, what types of footwashing are we engaged in today? Is the Church known for "simple assistance in trifling external matters," or do we tend to think they're below us? What types of activities are our hands busied with? What defines our "life together," not only for us, but for the world?
Maundy Thursday is a teaching moment, a rallying point for Jesus' disciples before Jesus takes his final steps. How might our Triduum worship rally our modern-day followers of Jesus into service and love? It is a shame if we focus on our own, personal relationship with Christ in such a way that we ignore the feet and simple needs of our neighbors.