Spirituality of the Readings
My dad used to tell special stories to us kids about Bruno the Bear. Bruno was just a cub, like us. We gloried in his secret stashes of honey, in angry bees swimming in the dirty river, the little bear cleaning behind its ears at Momma’s command, and so on.
With Bruno we burrowed safely into a comfy cave, his bear dad always just a few lumbering steps away. And of course our own dad’s strong voice retailing all of this from the center of his dadly person. We transitioned into stillness and wonder.
That was a long time ago, I know, but isn’t it amazing that people’s ears perk up immediately when a story begins, whether they are children or not.
I wonder if you and I might feel that way on Thursday afternoon and Friday evening and Saturday night at Holy Week Triduum. Will we come to attention when the story of the last supper is read? What about the Passion reading of Good Friday? Or are they just a test of our endurance?
There will be no problem as long as we get caught up in God’s great story.
It was the night Jesus died. He took some normal, coarse bread. He blessed it, broke off pieces for his disciples. The words he said have been remembered and retold throughout history. Eat this, he said, it is my flesh. I am going to give up everything I am so that you can live. And this wine, it is my blood. I will shed it because I love you. Drink deep.
He picked up a pail of water—smelly because it came up from a well. He took a rough cleaning cloth and did what nobody would have ever foreseen or even wanted in a million years. He washed their feet.
Peter takes our part: “Lord you will never wash my feet! Stop!” Messiahship does not explain the menial foot-washing that only a servant could do.
In the desert the devil had tempted Jesus in a fashion not too far removed from this one. He said, “You are equal to God, act like it!” And Peter had tried to stop Jesus' humility, remember, and Jesus answered with, “Get behind me, you Satan!”
Now Jesus warns Peter again, this time at the supper, “If I do not wash you, you will have no part in me,” and then he goes ahead and washes Peter’s feet.
Why? And why do we memorialize it on Holy Thursday? Because the entire relation of human beings to God is one of receiving love and giving back love, no matter what the cost. If Peter will not allow Jesus to care for him in this very earthy way, he will be refusing the gift of God’s labor on his behalf. “You can’t love us in that way,” he would be saying.
But he can. “I do not want to be Godly in the way you imagine, Jesus was saying. I want to show you that only humility can love and be loved. I want to show you that death is the most humble act of all.”
On Good Friday he washes us again, but this time in the humble flow of his own blood.
Will we listen to this story?
To that extent, we will receive and will be stilled. We will be emptied as he was and as his followers were.
Rest in Peace
Rest in peace, O King.
The cup is empty now.
Desert has its rain.
Rest in flowers, gentle Lord.
The weight we loaded you have borne now.
Golden love enlight your dying.
Holy, humble, holy Lord.
Holy God, holy mighty.
Rest in singing, peaceful King.
Your people are enfolded in your song.
Hágios O Theos
Hágios Athánitos eleison hymas.
Have mercy on us.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University