Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labour.. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, "Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?" He answered, "Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and thought, "Surely the thing is known."
How shall I make a return to the Lord
for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
and I will call upon the name of the Lord. (R./)
Precious in the eyes of the Lord
is the death of his faithful ones.
I am your servant, the son of your handmaid;
you have loosed my bonds. (R./)
To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and I will call upon the name of the Lord.
My vows to the Lord I will pay
in the presence of all his people. (R./)
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples" feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean." After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord-and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
When Jesus says, "Do this in memory of me!" what exactly did he mean by "THIS" What had Jesus in mind through the symbolism of the broken bread and the shared wine? We need to get behind the standard Catechism answer that the Mass is a time-transcending sacrifice and think afresh about what the paschal meal meant. The Last Supper was celebrated in the context of the Jewish Passover meal and tonight's first reading explains the meaning of this feast. In words and symbols it recalled the greatest saving act of God in the Old Testament, the exodus from Egypt, setting God's people free from slavery. It opens us up to the idea that God enters our lives to save us and set us free from whatever oppresses us. So "opened up," we are prepared for the good news that the definitive saving work of God is done in and by Jesus Christ.
This was the supreme "hour" of Jesus, the high point of his saving work, the new exodus, leaving this world to go back to the Father. This exodus of Jesus created a new relationship between God and humanity. Sharing in this new exodus is our liberation from slavery to material things and petty self-interest to let us love generously, in the image of God. Through love-without-limit, in his utter self-giving Jesus overcame all human selfishness and draws us away from sin. This tremendous love, which the Father wants us all to share, animates the passion of Christ. It is this self-giving love that he wants to keep alive among us. With his disciples in the Last Supper he anticipated his sacrifice on the cross, giving himself under the symbols of bread and wine. Every celebration of our Eucharist is the living memorial that unites us with his saving sacrifice. By it we share in the new exodus, so that we become truly human as God wants us to be.
Like Saint Peter, we cooperate with Jesus by letting him wash our feet, accepting his loving service. Having accepted the gift we try to imitate it in our lives. What Jesus does for us in his Passion shows us how to live. In some real sense, we must live "for" God and for others. He tells them "you also ought to wash one another's feet." We can regard our Eucharist as the place where the Lord washes our feet, and then sends us out to wash the feet of others, figuratively at least. Genuine Eucharist piety must lead to service of others. The same Christ who broke the bread of the Eucharist also washed the feet of his followers. We must follow his example both at the altar of the Eucharist and at the altar of life.
There is more to the washing of the feet than an example of humble service. This surprising gesture goes to the heart of what Jesus was about. His life of service culminated in death and resurrection. His "lifting up" on the cross is his ultimate act of loving service. This is made crystal clear by Saint John, who says that Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father. So his washing of their feet points deeply to the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Can we accept such astonishing love from God?