Jim Penczykowski's Homily from Holy Thursday, March 28, 2013

Holy Wisdom Monastery Homilies Leave a Comment

Our action this evening is simplicity itself, wash one another’s feet.

What does it mean to you?

Does this action mean, “I wish I had had time to put on clean socks before I came here so I wouldn’t offend anyone when I take my shoes off?”

There is something to this, you know.

This is a very sensual activity to come into close proximity to another person’s feet.

Those feet have seen a lot of miles; they may be tired; they may be ticklish; they may be suffering some neuropathy.

I want to be gentle with those feet;

I want to honor the person who places his or her feet in my hands.


Does this action mean I am trying to symbolize Jesus to that person whose foot I wash? Does the symbolism have something to do with humility?

Our feet today have not walked through dusty roads and met up with manure and other unclean items before coming here.

To wash another’s feet was something that even slaves could not be required to do, but which disciples might do out of reverence for their master. [Brown, Gospel According to John, 2:564]  But any act of service is permissible and freeing among friends.  By washing his disciples’ feet Jesus overcame by love the inequality that existed by nature between himself and those whom he had chosen as friends.  He established an intimacy with them that superseded his superiority and signaled their access to everything that he had received from his Father (see 15:15), even to the glory that he had been given as Son (see 17:22).
— Sandra M Schneiders, p. 195

An act of humility, then, is overrated if the relationship between the two people is fundamentally flawed because one is in a dominant position or a position of power over the other.

Two chapters later in John’s gospel we hear Jesus say, I call you friends.

What might be analogous today that would hold similar symbolic value for me?

St. Augustine has a notable comment on this passage,

“Because so great is the beneficence of human humility that even the Divine Majesty was pleased to commend it by his own example.  For proud humans would have perished eternally had they not been found by the lowly God.”

— Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 55.7.


Does this action mean something prophetic to me?

Is this really another way of praying the Eucharistic Prayer?

Does participating in this activity take me beyond the realm of virtue and moral performance to the level of imitating and participating in the self-gift of Jesus’ death?

“Do this in remembrance of me” sounds normal to our ears as frequent celebrants at the table of the Eucharist.

We heard it again today in our reading from Paul to the Corinthians.

Listen again to what Jesus says in John’s gospel,

“You also should do as I have done to you.”

“If you know these things

Blessed are you

If you do these things.”

This passage and those that follow in the great discourse are as close as John’s Good News gets to the Eucharist.

What does this liturgical action then tell us our attitude to the Eucharist should be?

Are we celebrating the Eucharist every time we serve?

That is, every time that we serve with the understanding that our actions transcend relationships that are inherently unequal, we re-enact what Jesus told us to do as a true sign of the reign of God in our midst.


The author of life serves us with an ever-expanding universe, a universe populated with more galaxies than we can currently count, more stars than we can imagine and more life forms than we can appreciate.


The author of life in the midst of all this grandeur found us a watery planet protected from space debris, tilted at an angle to allow for seasons and temperate weather.  The author of life released power to grow and change in the simplest of carbon chains which, in turn, evolve into our own DNA and nurture us.

The author of life delights in us and claims us.

The author of life joins us in our grand adventure of life.


The author of life strips to wash our feet with the caress of water molecules and dries our feet with the fibers of the earth.

The author of life does not serve us on just this night, but every moment of every day.

The author of life teaches us servanthood and humility.

The author of life values us as we are and teaches us to walk the Way of Jesus the Christ to our intended purpose, to love as God loves us.

So allow this liturgical act to be your prayer of thanksgiving and praise.

The author of life gives us this night and this water and these hands and feet and hearts.

Rejoice as the “claimed” Children of God you are.


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That our monetary gifts this evening to the Vera Court Food Pantry and to the St. Vincent de Paul Society will be laced with humble love for those who are also claimed by Christ, we pray…

That communities of faith will herald the reign of God in which relationships of inequality are replaced with relationships of friendship, companionship, and table fellowship, we pray…

That joy will characterize our lives as a community of faith drawing its life from the vine which is Christ Jesus, we pray…

That the Benedictine women of Madison will grow in love and numbers, we pray…

For what else shall we pray?

Please take this time to mention the names of those whose needs are dear to your hearts.  For these and all those listed in our book of intentions, we pray…


Holy One, hear our prayers this evening, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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