One of the perennial elements of our Holy Thursday liturgy is the reenactment of the scene in John’s Gospel where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. To show his love, Jesus performs the most menial task his disciples could imagine, something normally done by a servant – he washes their feet.
It is interesting that John’s Gospel does not contain the account we read in the synoptic Gospels of the institution of the Eucharist. We don’t read of Jesus taking bread and wine, saying the blessing, and handing them to his disciples, saying “This is my body…This is my blood.”
Instead, Jesus washes his disciples’s feet. Despite Peter’s protestations of unworthiness, Jesus insists on performing this act of love. And, just as he says in the synoptic Gospels, “Do this in memory of me,” he says here, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” Jesus says, I am your servant; in my memory, be a servant to each other. When we take that command seriously, we understand Jesus’ insistence that Peter allow him to wash his feet; if Peter can’t be washed by Jesus, he will never be able to wash the feet of those he perceives to be “beneath” him.
The command in John’s Gospel is a challenging one. It instructs us that “do this in memory of me” is not satisfied soley by our Eucharistic celebration at Mass, as important as that is. Rather, we are asked to follow Jesus’ model in how we live and interact with all of our brothers and sisters.