Tonight, we begin the Triduum, the Three Days. They are the holiest of days in the whole liturgical calendar, and they are the days that we begin our journey through crucifixion and into resurrection. It is a time for us to reflect on the meaning of the cross and how we are called to make the way of the cross our own way of living. We find ourselves in moments of solemnity and moments of celebration. We begin tonight, and our worship continues for until the close of the Easter Vigil. (This is why the dismissal is missing from the service on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday!)
The question of what it means to live the way of the cross begins with the service in which we read about the foot washing in the Gospel according to John. After washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus says, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:12b-15 NRSV) In Jesus, we witness the act of servant ministry and servant leadership. If the Christ washes the disciples’ feet, it begs the question of whose feet we, the Church, should be unwilling to wash. It seems clear that the example set by Jesus means that there is no person to whom our doors should be shut.
The foot washing ceremony invites reflection on how to welcome and how to practice relationship with one another and with our neighbors. It is not simply about going out into the world to wash the feet of our neighbors. It is also about opening ourselves up to hear from our neighbors and to listen to those cares, joys, concerns, and celebrations just as intently as we listen to those from within our own parish. The servant leadership set by Jesus is a practice that, I think, requires trust in the Holy Spirit. It is a trust that allows us to be open to the other and to listen with wide open hearts. We are called forward in mission to kneel before our city and our neighbors in acts of servant ministry time and again.
Of course, the danger is that we show up with our minds already made up about what a neighborhood or school or community needs. We forget that the foot washing comes after the disciples walked with Jesus for years, and we forget that the walking with one another is precisely how we practice welcome and servant leadership. In walking together, we are able to listen and to discern how the Holy Spirit is inviting us forward in ministry. The pace of walking allows us to talk and to notice things and to hear surprises as we walk a shared path. It is into this type of servant ministry that Jesus calls us – to love one another just as he has loved us.