This morning at 10am, we prayed the service of the Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Friday. Even though this service happens on Holy Thursday morning (technically it is to be served in the afternoon, but most parishes do it in the morning) – we are liturgically moved very quickly to the Upper Room, and on to the betrayal and crucifixion. We spend all of Holy Friday, beginning with tonight’s service, focusing on the crucifixion of Christ. So, on Holy Thursday, we experience the Upper Room.
Our Lord leaves His disciples with two critical lessons before the chaos of the next two days. The Upper Room is the ultimate “teaching moment” – before the disequilibrium of the very swift betrayal, crucifixion and burial, during which His followers will, for the most part, scatter or even deny Him, He takes this last moment to show them two very important things. The most important, is, of course, the breaking of the bread, the institution of the Eucharist – telling them of what is to come, but also assuring them that He will be with them always, and that, they, and all Christians who follow in generations to come, can experience Him, indeed, in a very physical way, in the bread and wine, His very body and blood.
The second profound lesson He gives is in the washing of their feet. In fact, the Vesperal Liturgy is centered around the event of the washing of feet. In fact, in cathedrals and monasteries around the world, there is literally a foot washing service – performed by Bishops or Abbots. This service has, for the most part, fallen out of practice on a parish level, but it is important to note, that it does still occur in the Church. It is important to not understate the significance of Jesus washing His disciples feet. It would have been common practice that the host of the house would provide water, as well as a servant, to wash his guests feet when they entered. The roads were dirty then, and people wore sandals, so it would have been necessary, for basic cleanliness, to do this. But it was a filthy job, which is why it would not have even been done by “higher esteemed” servants, but by the lowest. We see the shock in Peter’s statement “You, Lord, are washing my feet?!” He was their Rabbi, and beyond this, they had begun to recognize Him as the Messiah, even the Son of God.
Our Lord’s act of extreme humility before them was to show what manner of Kingdom He was about to usher in. Not a kingdom of glory by men’s standards, but a kingdom of glory by God’s standards. Man’s standard values power, riches, influence, and honor. God’s standard values service, humility, selfless love and sacrifice. This is why He is crucified by those who wanted a political king. This is why many abandon Him when His humility and sacrifice is made abundantly clear on the cross. This is why man abandon Him, even today, in exchange for kings (even false Christs) who promise them political power, influence, and honor. But the kindgoms according to man’s standards always perish. The Kingdom according to God’s standard has defeated hell and death – and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. May He who showed us the most excellent way of humility, Christ Our God, bless us as we journey on towards the remembrance of His saving Passion.
Next up.. Matins of Holy Friday, with the 12 Passion Gospel Readings – tonight at 6:30pm.