(Prayer offered on the Public Address system for the entire La Salle Academy educational community on Thursday, 29 March 2018)
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.
Today is Holy Thursday in the Christian tradition. It is a day marked by three themes: the chrism or the oils, a sign of the priesthood; the meal done in remembrance of the Passover; and the washing of the feet of the guests at table. Most of us do not remember our own baptism; but, maybe in having witnessed a baptism, we recall that it is not only the priest who is anointed with oils at his ordination—the oils anoint us at baptism as well—if you die with Christ you shall live with Christ. The celebration of Eucharist is a remembrance of the dying and rising of Jesus—eat my body and drink my blood—the ultimate sacrifice of self for other; unless I die I remain but a single seed, a single grain.
My focus this morning, however, is on the washing of the feet. A tradition among the Brothers was a weekly activity called the “exercise of pardon.” Brothers in the community sought pardon from each other for their offenses of the week. On Holy Thursday the “exercise of pardon” was done for the year. Fifty-two years ago when I was a novice Brother, some twenty-five 18 and 19 year olds like me gathered in the Chapel at Narragansett on this day and washed each other’s feet and asked each other for pardon.
There is something special, something unique about our feet—think about your feet for a moment and picture them. They are often not the nicest looking; for some of us they are well-worn and tired; some are large and some small; some feet have bunions or broken toes or warts or other disfigurements. Some feet can run swiftly; others shuffle along. Some are calloused from heavy use and have the odor of sweat and hard work; others are soft and fragrant, pedicured and painted. We generally hide our feet and keep them covered, in socks and nylons, boots and shoes, sandals and slippers. Those feet are us!
Each of us is broken and deformed in some way; we are imperfect as our feet are—it is part of what it means to be human. When Jesus knelt at the feet of his friends he was telling them that he loved them in all their humanness. Peter said to Jesus—“You will never wash my feet.” Was it pride? Was it fear of having his humanness discovered? Was it embarrassment? Jesus answers: “If I do not wash your feet, you cannot share life with me.” If you do not allow me to embrace you with all your warts and all the dirt of your life’s travels, you cannot be my friend—I can only love you as you really are. I cannot really love the painted façade, the pedicured and perfumed. And then Jesus tells us that we must wash and embrace each other’s feet.
Unless the seed fall into the ground and die, it remains but a single grain—unless I put aside my pride, unless I embrace my own woundedness and that of my brothers and sisters, I will never lead others to fullness of life. Am I willing to accept myself and others in brokenness, in imperfection, with all the idiosyncrasies, and annoyances, and hurts we experience in ourselves and in others? Jesus invites us, challenges us—to embrace our own feet and to embrace our own selves, whether we be glamorous or plain, athletic or clumsy, artistic or color blind, musical or tone deaf, very bright in academics or struggling. AND, Jesus invites us, challenges us—to embrace and respect and honor the diversity around us—the young man or young woman who is wealthy and drives a sporty car and the one who takes the bus, the most popular kid in our clique of friends and the kid who hangs out on the edge, the star athlete and the bench warmer, the lead actor and the kid with the bit part. Each of us, each of you is of worth—God embraces you as you are; God embraces me as I am. Should we do anything less?
So, think about feet today—think about how unique each of us is—think about what it would mean to really respect and honor and care for each other, as we are, in bare feet so to speak. And when you wash your feet tonight think about our God who lovingly washes and embraces us regardless of how grimy or soiled we think we are. Make this Holy Thursday really holy—and, like the young Brothers your age did some 52 years ago symbolically, find a way to forgive and ask forgiveness of those whom you have hurt and those who have hurt you. Bring that to the Cross tomorrow and Jesus will bring you to new life on Easter Day.
Let us pray: Jesus, you swallowed your pride, took off your cloak, and knelt at the feet of your disciples as a servant. Help us today to be people of feet who accept ourselves and each other in all our humanness, with all our imperfections, with all the warts and callouses and bruises of our lives. AMEN.
Saint John Baptist de La Salle…pray for us.
Live, Jesus, in our hearts…forever.
Brother Frederick Mueller