Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
April 5, 2012
Holy Thursday

“What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” John 13:7

When Jesus washes the feet of His disciples, Peter questions this gesture.  “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” (John 13:6).   Jesus answers, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later” (John 13:7). 

So often the action of washing the feet of the disciples is seen as a call to service.  After all, doesn’t Jesus say, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (John 13:15)?  Certainly service is implied but what kind of service? 

The service of washing feet was part of the hospitality offered to guests by the host.  This task was assigned usually to a servant.  For this reason, we can understand why Peter, who considers Jesus to be the “Master,” would protest, “You will never wash my feet” (John 13:8).   The answer of Jesus is telling.  “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me” (John 13:8).   What is the “inheritance” for which this washing is an invitation?

Many explanations have been given as to why the Gospel of St. John does not include an account of the Eucharistic Institution.  The Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke, as well as St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians already had given an account of that moment.  However, there is more to the Eucharist than the truth of its institution by our Lord.  There is the meaning, and it is the significance of the Eucharist that St. John must teach us.  That meaning and significance is rooted in the word “covenant.” 

A covenant is a binding union.  One might think of it as a familial bond.  God makes a covenant with His people on Mount Sinai, and the binding gesture is blood, sprinkled over the altar and the people (Exodus 24:3-8).  “This is the blood of the covenant,” (Exodus 24:8) Moses proclaims.  This blood bond recalls the blood in our first reading that marked the houses of the Hebrews, the blood that spared them the killing of their first born.  “The blood of the covenant” is a redeeming blood because it symbolizes a redemptive union between God and His People. 

And so Jesus will take the cup of wine at the Last Supper and will say, as St. Paul describes it, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (I Corinthians 11:25).  There is a covenant bond in the blood of Christ, and the Gospel of St. John will delve even more deeply into it by placing it in the context of the washing of the feet.

The washing of the feet is an act of covenant.  A host washed the feet and brought the guests into the family.  This is what Jesus does.  He is bringing His disciples into the “inheritance.”   Aaron and his sons were washed by Moses when called to priesthood (Exodus 29:4).  The disciples stand in a great tradition of inheritance.  And what is being handed over?  Nothing less than the “name” and the sonship.  Jesus will say, “I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world” (John 17:6).  By this “name,” they will be invited into a union with Jesus that admits them into an intimacy with the Father.  “I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me…” (John 17:22-23). 

God wants to give himself to us.  He does so through Jesus Christ.  It is a covenant union whereby we are joined to God through His Son.  This we celebrate in the Eucharist and it is made possible by His priesthood. 

Is the Eucharist a meal?  Yes, but it is so much more.  Is the washing of the feet an act of service?  Yes, but there is so much more.  Seen together they are part of a great mystery.  God wants to be one with us.  He must establish a way and a means to achieve that union. 

In washing the feet of the disciples, Jesus was inviting His disciples into an intimacy, an intimacy with God that the Eucharist both enacts and celebrates.  Through it the mystery of Jesus’ redeeming Passion, Death and Resurrection are made present, and the priest, who first and foremost must share that intimacy, makes present.  

        The Opening Prayer of this Mass will pray:

    “O God, who have called us to participate in this most sacred Supper,
    in which your Only Begotten Son, when about to hand himself over to death,
    entrusted to the Church a sacrifice new for all eternity, the banquet of his love,
    grant, we pray, that we may draw from so great a mystery, the fullness of charity
    and of life.”