Shared Homily Starter
The Community is invited to share after the foot-washing
Exodus 12.1-8, 11-14
Tonight's readings calls us to reflect on the meaning of the sacraments that we receive. The reading from Corinthians recalls the institution of the Eucharist. Some of us may remember the old Baltimore Catechism definition of a sacrament as “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace”. I don't think we are given grace so that we can get time off for good behaviour from purgatory or to fill up some heavenly milk bottle or egg that represents our soul. We are given grace so that the grace we receive can bear fruit. By that I mean that we are nourished through the Eucharist, so that we may be nourishment for others.
John's Gospel shows us that in living in the daylight of grace, we are to help accomplish the intent of the Gospel, the Good News. The Fourth Gospel is full of double meanings but the Evangelist makes one thing clear, this Gospel was written to encourage belief in the reader. He or she wrote it so that we may believe and so that we may continue to believe what is written. For example, the Evangelist tells us Jesus loved them to the end! That also means, He loves us to the end! That is, Jesus loved them and us to the very last moment and that Jesus loves us totally, completely, with the full extent of his love. John wants us to understand that Jesus' love is a love that at its core is incomprehensible in its fullness. God's love for us is the reason that Jesus came. Jesus' mission was to teach us to have confidence in Him as the revelation of God's love. He would be put to death because what he taught could free people from the oppressive structures and life-ways that kept them captive. But as that famous film line from the Mummy says, “Death is only the beginning.” Jesus knew, the Evangelist tells us, that he had come from God and was going to God. But we can see, Jesus wanted to give the disciples one more comprehensive lesson before his ordeal.
As is typical with Peter, he did not understand what Jesus was doing. He did not understand that unless we let Jesus wash away what separates us and what keeps us from becoming whole, we cannot share the unifying love that God gives us. The washing of the disciples feet is not only an act of service but one of love for them and for us. As we read and hear it today, the foot-washing serves as a reminder of the ethical grace of our baptism.
Ethical grace is the grace of the essential goodness of earth and all its inhabitants combined with our responsibility for sustaining it. Jesus knows the disciples are not really getting it. If we were to put what Jesus was saying in today's terms, it would go something like this. Yes, I'm your teacher but your seminary days are almost over. I have washed your feet as a symbol of ethical grace in action; as an example that I want you to follow. I washed your feet to show you that you are to follow my example by your humility, love and generosity in your communities, in caring for all who have need, in healing the sick, in your appreciation for all life, by confronting the powers of injustice and exploitation, and in advocacy for freedom of the imprisoned.1 In essence that is what Jesus was saying to them and to us.
At the Easter Vigil liturgy, we will renew our baptismal vows. So let us reflect on the meaning of the sacraments that we receive. When we are baptized, we join a community whose mandate is discipleship. The book of Genesis tells us the world that God created was “very good”. We do not have to belittle other faiths or try to convert people. Our Baptismal discipleship does not set us apart from or make us better than our brothers and sisters of other faiths or no faith. Our baptismal vows do call us to imitate Christ in reflecting God's love.
When we receive the Eucharist, which means, Thanksgiving, we give thanks that Jesus loved us so much that he gave his life so that we might learn love and justice as the life-sustaining will of God. At the same time, when we receive the body and blood of Christ, we commit to following the same example of discipleship Jesus instituted along with the Eucharist on the night before he was crucified. Jesus modelled that attending to the bodily needs of people is not divorced from caring for the needs of their souls. The practice of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are derived from the Jesus teachings and example. So during these holy days and beyond, let us pray that the phrase, “They will know we are Christians by our love” becomes a fact not just a lyric to a song. Let us pray that our actions reflect the words we profess. So in memory of that holy night, I will wash your feet as a symbol of my love for and service to you.
1Brock, Rita Nakashima, and Rebecca Ann Parker. Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire. Boston: Beacon Press, 2008.