The painting above is by an artist named Daniel Bonnell, which I received as an incredibly thoughtful gift for Christmas from our office manager (who’s also affectionately and appropriately been dubbed “the Newman Mom”) Mary Kominsky. I have it in a prominent place in my apartment where I can see it every day – which is especially reflective for me on the mornings or evenings when I decide to pray in my room rather than the chapel. The beauty of the image where we see Jesus washing the apostle’s feet – but with the imagery of the moon in the distance, symbolizing God the Father and a dove on the window sill, depicting the Holy Spirit moved me the first time I saw the image. I had never contemplated that moment of the Last Supper as a Trinitarian moment. We kind of can get lost in the drama of these Gospel narratives that we forget that the life of Christ, His actions include the Father and the Holy Spirit…
Between looking at the image, reflecting on the Gospel readings for Holy Week, and journeying with millions around the world who daily subscribers of Father Mike Schmitz’ Bible in a Year podcast was providential for me in reflecting on the immensity of these Holy Days.
Right now in the Bible in a Year podcast, we’ve prayed and reflected through all the first 5 books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch) and are a couple of days into Judges and Ruth. All the amazing stories from the beginnings of Creation through Noah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses… the Burning Bush, the plagues, the Exodus, to eventually entering the Promised Land. At that point in our story (since the Bible is meant to be “our story”) every time God and man communicate, interact, have some sort of encounter it’s from a distance in mysterious ways.
That first time Moses meets God – he climbs the Mountain of the Lord (Mount Horeb), he encounters a bush engulfed but not consumed by flames. God tells Moses to take off his shoes and to remain at a distance that he is on holy ground. It’s there where God reveals His name, “I Am”, and commissions Moses with the task of announcing to Pharaoh that His people are to be set free from Egypt. Moses is scared, overwhelmed by the entirety of the experience.
Fast forward to the Upper Room. The apostles remove their shoes, not with the same awe and wonder as Moses, but confusion – awkwardness as Jesus grabs a bowl, water, and towel to wash their feet. Peter, as is often the case, speaks without thinking – first arguing he should wash Jesus’ feet and then when Jesus explains that He must, Peter basically asks for a shower… which Jesus patiently and gently corrects. Then that’s followed up with the institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood.
Think about the accessibility of God:
Moses removes His shoes out of respect, now God Himself stoops down to wash our feet.
Our ancestors were afraid to look at Him for fear they would die – through the gift of the Priesthood and Eucharist, Jesus is as real and present at our parishes as He was in that upper room.
Our forefathers in the faith were kept at a distance from the holiest of places whether it was on the mountain, or the ark where God chose to dwell – now, for us, we are the place where He chooses to dwell as we eat His very body and drink His very blood.
It’s the ultimate of love stories. After humanity decided they wanted to be gods themselves and abandoned Him, He saw us in our lowliness and despair. He kept making a way, providing means of navigating the world we had fractured. He pursued us even as we continued to use Him to get out of jams and then conveniently forgetting that once whatever crisis was over that left us foolishly believing we’re good on our own again to pursue other “gods.” He loved us, revealed Himself in countless ways through the law, the prophets, the people of Israel themselves. And He never gave up on the dream of intimacy with us. More than drawing near to us, making His home within us. Lovingly washing our feet, hoping we would lovingly welcome Him in to make us His temple, His “Holy of holies” where He can forever dwell.
I’m trying to imagine Moses walking into that Upper Room – or into any of our parishes at a Mass – what would be his reaction seeing how God once again flips the script and upends expectations. How all the miraculous events were only foreshadowing what was to come. May these days of the Holy Triduum – Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday be a time of renewal for us in what a profound and sacred encounter between God and each of us we’re privileged to be included in at every Mass.