The Proper Liturgy for Maundy Thursday – perhaps more than any other liturgy of the year – is about intimacy, revealed in dinner and a bath. Intimacy is the reason many show up to this liturgy. It is also the reason many more do not. Intimacy is the reason a few will wash and be washed. It is also the reason why most will not.
Intimacy can be frightening. It calls us to a place of vulnerability, risk, and openness – a place in which we will most certainly be changed, transformed.
Too often we hear “intimacy” and think sexuality. Intimacy, however, is more than sexuality, emotions, feelings, physicality, or sentimentality. It is about relationship, oneness, and union – with God, each other, and ourselves. It is how God loves. Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13:8). It is how we are to love. “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” (John 13:14-15).
Christian perfection is not individualistic. Rather, it is personal and can flourish only in the life of communion with God and our neighbors. How then can we refuse the feet of another? How can we refuse to offer our feet to another?
We need each other’s feet. The life of God is one of intimate communion, not isolated individuals. St. Basil the Great affirms this in the following excerpts taken from his Ascetical Works:
- Wherein will he show his humility, if there is no one with whom he may compare and so confirm his own greater humility? Wherein will he give evidence of his compassion, if he has cut himself off from association with other persons? And how will he exercise himself in long-suffering, if no one contradicts his wishes? If anyone says that the teaching of the Holy Scripture is sufficient for the amendment of his ways, he resembles a man who learns carpentry without ever actually doing a carpenter’s work or a man who is instructed in metal-working but will not reduce theory to practice. To such a one the Apostle would say: ‘Not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.’
- Consider, further, that the Lord by reason of His excessive love for man was not content with merely teaching the word, but, so as to transmit to us clearly and exactly the example of humility in the perfection of charity, girded Himself and washed the feet of the disciples.
- Whose feet, therefore, will you wash? To whom will you minister? In comparison with whom will you be the lowest, if you live alone?