For me, the Holy Thursday liturgy not only sets the stage for the Easter Triduum that begins this evening but offers us a wonderful model for living as Christ’s followers.
At supper with his disciples, Jesus shocks them by kneeling before them and washing their feet. This is a scandal! Only an inferior would do such a lowly task. It is truly humbling to wash a person’s feet, and it’s just as humbling to have your own feet washed. (If you’ve never done this at the Holy Thursday liturgy, try it! It will give you fresh insights into tonight’s gospel reading.) Foot washing was a common act of hospitality in Jesus’ day, given the dusty roads people walked. Today, in Canada, not so much. But we don’t lack opportunities to serve others.
If you have cared for a child, or someone who is sick or disabled, or an aging loved one, you have offered this kind of humble service. Changing a diaper. Feeding. Bathing. Cleaning the toilet. Changing the sheets. The list goes on. It’s not glamorous, but it’s done out of love. During the pandemic, we have had more opportunities to serve the sick, the isolated, the unemployed, the fragile. Front-line workers have led the way: day after day, wave after wave, they show up. Masks and PPE don’t always protect them, but their dedication doesn’t falter. Educators keep teaching students. Grocery store staff keep stocking shelves. Delivery people keep delivering the goods we need. And always, families and neighbours are there for each other.
I love this story about Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, Michigan (1937–2004). When he was ordained bishop, he told the people, “My name is Ken, and I will be your waiter.” Instead of living in the bishop’s mansion, he sold it and moved his belongings with him as he stayed for a while in turn at rectories in his diocese, getting to know the parishes, people and pastors. For him, service was everything.
We all are called to serve; we just need to figure out how to do it. There is no shortage of possibilities. Start at home and move outward into your local community, your parish, your town or city. Find a way to serve at a national or global level, such as by donating money or advocating for those without a voice. Organizations like Development and Peace offer us countless ways to contribute. As Jesus says, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” Amen. And don’t forget to smile – you’re doing God’s work!
Anne Louise Mahoney is managing editor of Novalis. She is the editor of Looking to the Laity: Reflections on Where the Church Can Go from Here and the author of I Hope, a book for young children.