As I Have Done for You, You Should Also Do

by Tefi Ma’ake

My students give me funny looks when I talk about why and how I love the Easter Triduum, and I can’t say I blame them. I’m sure that if I was my religion teacher when I was 15, I would have thought I was a little too crazy in love with the liturgy and traditions of the church as well. While the Easter Vigil comes in a close second, the Holy Thursday liturgy is my favorite mass of the liturgical year. I fell in love with this liturgy my freshman year at Loyola Marymount University (LMU). It’s not that I don’t remember going to this mass or watching people have their feet washed prior to my college experience, but there was something about how the Gospel was broken open during the LMU liturgy that made it real and tangible for the first time. This Thursday marks the tenth time I will worship with the LMU community in Sacred Heart Chapel – the tenth time I will hear and see the Word broken open in the same way – and I’m waiting in anticipation.

I love that there is a break during the proclamation of the Gospel, in which the celebrant removes his outer garments, and gets down on his knees to wash the feet of the designated people who have been called up to the altar. I love that when he is finished, he puts on his vestments again and finishes reading the Gospel passage. I love that upon the words “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do,” those on the altar move out into the congregation, invite and lead others up, and then wash their feet. I find the whole ceremony beautiful and rich with symbolism.

That being said, I’m not the biggest fan of feet and in fact, I hate having anyone touch mine (unless I’m getting a pedicure and even then I tip beyond generously feeling bad for anyone who has to touch feet). Even with the beauty of the ceremony I’ve witnessed and watched so many times, I can’t seem to escape this thought. If I dislike feet so much today, when for the most part, feet are relatively clean, how much more would I have disliked them in Jesus’ time? Foot washing in the time of Jesus wasn’t the ritual or ceremony we see today reenacted on Holy Thursday. It had a hygienic purpose, as feet were dirty after trudging through sand and dirt and manure. Washing someone’s feet was the lowly task of servants – surely not the work of the master.

I can’t say I blame Peter for not understanding the significance of Jesus’ actions, or for his struggle and refusal of Jesus at first, “You will never wash my feet.” In fact, I imagine if I were face to face with Jesus, I would have put up much more of a fight, trying instead to wash Jesus’ feet than dare let him touch mine. I’m pretty sure that in the end, Jesus would have won and the mere thought of Jesus washing my feet overwhelms me. This is one reason why I love this Gospel and the Holy Thursday liturgy so much. What does it mean to let Jesus wash my feet? To come before him with all of my dirt – my ugliness and brokenness – and let his love heal and wash me clean?

I can only imagine the grace the disciples must have experienced in this moment and therefore how much more fully they embraced the words Jesus spoke when he had finished, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” What an amazing commission to go and be of love and service in the world!

This calls to mind the moving story of a friend and co-worker of mine whose husband washed her feet before he proposed to her – indeed the promise to love and serve was evident in that proposal. This friend and her husband belong to a Christian church in Hollywood, CA with a dedication to service and outreach to the homeless in the area. Every year they host a foot washing in which members of their congregation wash the feet of all the homeless they serve. As I prepare for this Holy Thursday and ponder the mission Jesus models for us in the Gospel, I hold both of these images in the forefront of my heart and mind. I have no doubt that Jesus’ call to follow his example means that we should strive to love and serve – to wash the feet – of those we know and love dearly. And this surely is not always an easy task, but how much more of a challenge is it to love and serve – to wash the feet – of a stranger, the sick, the lonely, the broken, or even an enemy?

The parallel of Jesus instituting the Eucharist during this last Passover meal he shares with his friends and the commissioning to go out to love and serve through the washing of the feet is clear and unmistakable. In the celebration of the Eucharist, as in the washing of the feet, we are called to come to the table with our real life concerns, struggles, joys, pains, and hurts and be nourished. Every week we come as we are to communion, and are blessed and broken to be given to the world. Perhaps it is the simplicity and difficulty of this challenge to love and to serve – to be the grace we have received, to be the Christ that washes the feet of others, to be the Eucharist – that makes me crazy in love with this Holy Thursday liturgy of the Lord’s Supper. This year, as I join the procession to adore the Blessed Sacrament at the end of the Holy Thursday mass, each step will be a prayer and a commitment to the simple yet complex beauty of this challenge – “as I have done for you, you should also do.”

Tefi Ma’ake, high school teacher and campus minister, is looking forward to the rich liturgical traditions of the Triduum, as well as the much needed rest and renewal of the Easter Break!

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One Response

  1. I couldn’t agree more, Tefi! Thank you for your words of thought and faith which helps me more deeply explore mine.
    ps–Holy Thursday is hands-down my favorite liturgy, too!

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