Triduum Sacrum: Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Exodus 12:1-8; 11-14; Psalm 116; I Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15
I went to purchase new shoes the other day when I realized I couldn’t remember the last time someone served customers in a shoe store. Do you remember when you sat down in a shoe store and an attendant got on their knee, removed your shoe, measured your size and then went and brought a number of pairs of shoes for you to try on. It may have been the only time in our culture that we experienced another person on their knees before us. I don’t remember when this practice came to an end. I just have to wonder why it did come to an end.
In 1968 Francois Clemmons became the first Afro-American actor to have a recurring role on a kids TV series. Clemmons had joined the cast of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a police officer. There’s one scene in particular that Clemmons remembers with great emotion. It was from an episode that aired in 1969 in which Rogers had been resting his feet in a plastic pool on a hot day. “He invited me to come over and to rest my feet in the water with him,” Clemmons recalls. “The icon Fred Rogers not only was showing my brown skin in the tub with his white skin as two friends, but as I was getting out of that tub, he was helping me dry my feet.” Consider what it was like in the 1960’s of presenting to black and white children of our country the image of a black police officer. The experience of people in our country, particularly the black community, was of white police officers siccing dogs and using water hoses on people. Yet we all saw a white Fred Rogers drying the feet of a black Francois Clemmons. Did anyone consider the implications of Fred’s action?
Pope Francis has also changed a practice and thus how we are to experience each other.
With Popes, the Rite of Washing Feet during the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper usually involves twelve priests. Though in 2013, Francis cleansed and kissed the feet of teenagers in a criminal detention center. Among the group were two women and two Muslims. In 2014 he visited a home for the elderly and disabled in Rome. There, he washed the feet of 12 residents, all lay people including nine Italians, one Muslim from Libya, a young man from Cape Verde and an Ethiopian woman. Despite continued dissenting voices from some corners of Catholicism, Francis has confirmed the practice he has begun. On 6 January 2016, Francis decreed that those chosen to have their feet washed during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper should be representatives of the community, meaning; women and men, young and old, the sick and the healthy, laity and clergy, and seemingly by his own example, people from other faith traditions as well as Christians.
Both Fred Rogers and Pope Francis understand what it means to express respect for the dignity of every human being. That human dignity has no boundaries. Jesus washes the feet of Judas, Peter and the disciple whom he loved, with no less respect despite their life choices, past, present and future. This is the example we have been given to live out. An example Francis understands that is not about a re-enacting of a historical event, thus only twelve males, but the living out of our ever-present reality in Christ. Human dignity has no boundaries. It is the same respect Francis has extended by engaging atheists in dialogue and urging Catholics not to judge gay women and men.
So, when you purchase your next pair of shoes reflect for a moment on why in society we no longer offer the example of getting on our knees to each other and the implications of that societal change. Reflect also on why some people in the Catholic Church do not want to humble themselves before women, before people of other faith traditions, criminals, the elderly, teenagers, lay people, people from foreign nations, or people whose skin colour is different than ours.
Do we realize what Fred Rogers, Pope Francis and Jesus the Teacher have done for us this night?