Holy Ritual: Love Feast
Matthew 26:17 - 19, adapted by Wilda Gafney from her book, A Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church
On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?”
He said, “Go into the city to a certain person, and say, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’”
So the disciples did just as Jesus instructed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
The story continues, as told by the writer of John.
...Jesus knew that his time on this Earth was coming to an end. He has always loved his own in the world, but now he showed how perfect that love was. As Jesus and his disciples were sharing the evening meal. He got up from the table and took off his outer robes, picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing.
When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Teacher, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I’m doing, but you will understand later.”
“No!” Peter said. “You will never wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.”
Simon Peter said, “Not only my feet but also my hands and my head!”
Jesus responded, “Those who have bathed need only to have their feet washed, because they are completely clean. You disciples are clean, but not every one of you.”
He knew who would betray him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”
After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table. He said to them, “Do you know what I’ve done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’, and you speak correctly, because I am. If I, your Teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do."
With a simple basin of water, Jesus demonstrated for the disciples and for us, a new social order, once again turning the tables on societal hierarchy.
I suppose feet are the perfect medium for Jesus who made a habit of finding the sacred in the ordinary and the holy in the mundane. An ordinary act that becomes sacred and holy. Washing feet is an act of radical love, a commentary on social status as Jesus transforms a cultural act of hospitality into a powerful ritual. Though the act of washing feet Jesus invites us to practice humble service, to practice living into that counter-cultural social order.
I recall in the early days of the pandemic we were reminded of the importance of vigorous and frequent hand washing. Washing and singing Happy Birthday, the ABCs or Hands Clean by Alanis Morisette or My Shot from Hamilton. Hand washing, a rudimentary practice, became an intentional and holy practice.
At that same meal, after Jesus washed their feet, after they had finished eating and drinking there would have been food left on the table. Some bread and wine. Simple elements, ordinary bread, ordinary wine. By that point in the evening it probably wasn’t even very good wine. Knowing what the following days would bring, Jesus, around the table with his closest friends, wanted to create a memory, create a ritual for them to remember the meal and him with. A way to connect to each other no matter what the road ahead brought.
Kurt Struckmeyer reimagined the words of institution, the sacred story of communion that articulate what that simple meal means and so I share his words:
“Long ago our ancestors knew love’s power and they became the tellers of love’s tale. Love bound them in covenant, teaching them to live in community with compassion and concern for the poorest among them. Yet centuries of domination and violence shaped a different kind of community based on selfishness and inequality. In the struggle against oppression, Jesus [would] became a face of love, showing us [a] way to abundant life. In word and deed, he announced love’s new reign of justice, reconciliation, and peace. Filled with the courage and passion of love’s spirit, he gave his life to challenge the unjust systems of this world.
On the night of his betrayal and arrest, as he shared a meal with his friends. Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his followers, saying:
“Share this bread among you; this is my body which will be broken for justice. Do this to remember me.”
In the same way, he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to his disciples, saying:
“Share this wine among you; this is my blood which will be shed for liberation. Do this to remember me.”