Tonight’s liturgy is the most poignant and tender of the year. We gather to commemorate the Lord’s Supper, and at the heart of the liturgy is the solemn ceremony of washing feet.
The ceremony adds weight to the Chrism Mass earlier in the day when the priestly ministry is re-affirmed because the twelve men whose feet are being washed represent the twelve apostles. The other (and more important) emphasis is on Christ the servant. To show that he is among us “as one who serves” the priest kneels to wash feet, and part of the washing of the feet is traditionally to kiss each foot.
Why feet, and why does this ultimate act of service touch my heart so each year?
Because feet are the most humble of our appendages. Few feet can be called beautiful. They are rough hewn, angular and practical parts of the body. Often oddly shaped with bunions, corns and callouses, the feet are homely and humble.
The feet are how we connect to earth. Nor can foot feel being shod. The bare foot or the sandaled foot is in connection with God’s good earth and so man is reminded with his feet that he comes from the earth and to the earth he shall return. The feet keep (literally) down to earth. The walk. They run. The plod. They trod. They stand. They do humble work and for all the weight they bear day after day feet have relatively few complaints. Keep them warm. Keep them dry and they will do humble service for ages. Feet are the Samwise Gamgee of the body.
But feet can also dance. They can tap. They can waltz. They can do the rumba. They can skip. They can hop. They can do the cha-cha-cha. How beautiful are the tender and innocent feet of a child at play. They gambol and run, they trot and leap, and my heart shall skip like hind’s feet on high places! You can be fleet of foot and flight of foot and use those feet to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Finally the prophet sings, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” The powerful and poignant paradox is that these beautiful feet are the ones that bear the nail prints. These beautiful feet of the one who brings good news and proclaims the gospel of peace are the ones nailed to the wood of the cross. Then in a day or so we see those wounds healed and one day glorified–the bright scars turned into bright stars, and the red wounds transformed into roses.
So I will kiss the feet of twelve men because in those feet are the beautiful feet of the Savior.