Holy Thursday Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper B – April 5, 2012 – Feet and Food
Exodus 12; 1-8, 11-14; Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18; 1 Cor 11:23-26; John 13:1-15
Feet and food? In the same sentence this is not an attractive thought, is it. But that is what tonight is all about: a celebration of feet and food. Foot is a complex word. Fundamentally we use our feet for locomotion, to walk, run, dance. When our feet fail us for various reasons movement is not so easy; often we rely on others to help us get around. We use a foot to measure distance, how far is it from here to there. Idiomatically it finds its way into our daily conversations.
Dragging your feet means to move slowly. Standing on your own two feet is to be independent. We are swept off our feet when we are impressed. One foot in the grave? Well … you know what that means.
Washing feet is a significant gesture for us tonight. It helps us remember our Jewish and Christian ancestors in faith. Without mobility the Israelites would not have been able to run away from a murderous dictator. Without mobility the early disciples would not have been able to spread the inspirational message of Jesus, which swept them off their feet.
What about food? Tonight we shared abundant food before this ritual meal. (Wasn’t it great to walk into church and smell such wonderful aromas?) The food was delicious and fun. It satisfied our appetites and celebrated the people we love to be with. To move about we need energy. The first reading reminded us of the exodus of the Israelites with Moses and Miriam leading the way. Although they left in a hurry they knew enough to take raw dough to bake in the desert later.
We love to tell biblical stories especially at this time of year. They put us in touch with the people of yesteryear and their longings for civil and religious freedom. The Israelites symbolize those people who are still held in captivity: those robbed of their human rights; those spurned because of their race, sexual orientation or gender; those fleeing hardship and murder in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq; those ignored and offended by an elite governance of religion and state.
We Christians have come to believe that the blood of Jesus, spurted out for the liberation of all people, was similar to the blood of the lamb that spared the Jews from death in Egypt.
These stories are not just about others. When our Jewish sisters and brothers celebrate Passover tomorrow night they will identify with their ancestors’ exodus as if they themselves were struggling for liberty today. It is not about something that happened in the past; it is happening to them today. Our stories about Jesus as a liberator are not just about him. They are about you and me and how we come to see ourselves as characters in these biblical narratives. If we do not, we are just telling stories about others.
In tonight’s gospel Jesus reportedly said, “I have set an example for you, that you do for others what I have done for you.” By emphasizing the washing of feet the evangelist John, unlike the other evangelists, was reminding late first century Christians that the Eucharist is inseparable from service to others. You and I cannot celebrate the liturgy at the altar table tonight and not have a food pantry in this parish, and not write letters to our elected officials, and not minister to the sick and elderly, and not have a sister parish in Panama. We have been taught that the Eucharist is inseparable from service to others.
Many years after Jesus we now stand on our own two feet bearing the name Christian. We put our best feet forward not to advance only ourselves but others starving for dignity, equality and freedom. This action gives meaning and strength to the priesthood all of us share — through baptism, confirmation and ordination. Together we are the body of Christ. We are weak without one another. When one of is hurt, all of us are hurt. Nourishment from heaven will not last long when you and I do not sustain one another on our journeys. We cannot count on manna from heaven alone if we do not sustain one another here on earth.
The liturgical action tonight is about feet and food — service and eucharist. Tomorrow this liturgy continues with the victory of the cross. At the Easter vigil, we become lights to the world and renew our covenant with God and one another. On Easter Sunday we remember Jesus’ resurrection and imagine a just and good life that we wish could last forever.
All of our liturgies, throughout the year, are expressions of who we are, what we believe and what we do – how we behave in the public sphere. Nourished and sustained by God all of us are ordained to be holy. Fed by sacred things we take steps, baby steps at times, to build up the world we hope is yet to come.
As is our custom here at St. Vincent’s, in a few moments all of you are invited to take part in this age old story by having your feet washed and then by washing someone else’s feet. Before doing so let us be still for a moment to reflect on what God is speaking to us tonight.