Today begins the most solemn half of the most solemn week of the year for Christians. Today we remember the events of the day before Jesus was crucified: his washing of his disciples’ feet; his command–which we honor more in the breach than in the observance–to love each other as he had loved them; their last meal together before he died; his desperate prayers in an olive orchard while his friends napped.
Henri Nouwen talks about the meaning of the foot-washing and final meal:
“Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. . . . [H]e got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:1-5)
After washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus says, “I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.” After giving himself as food and drink, he says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” He wants us to bend ourselves to the ground and touch the places in each other that most need washing. He also wants us to say to each other, “Eat of me and drink of me.” By this complete mutual nurturing, he wants us to become one body and one spirit, united by the love of God. . . .
The word became flesh so as to wash my tired feet. He touches me precisely where I touch the soil, where earth connects with my body that reaches out to heaven. He kneels and takes my feet in his hands and washes them. Then he looks up at me and, as his eyes and mine meet, he says: “Do you understand what I have done for you? If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash your brothers’ and sisters’ feet.” As I walk the long, painful journey toward the cross, I must pause on the way to wash my neighbors’ feet. As I kneel before my brothers and sisters, wash their feet, and look into their eyes, I discover that it is because of my brothers and sisters who walk with me that I can make the journey at all. . . .