All over the Christian world, church groups will be meeting tonight to re-enact the Last Supper, especially with a ritual washing of feet. Even the Pope will get down on his knees with water and a towel.
The ceremonial washing of feet in the liturgy seems to be the model I have had in mind most of the time when reading the Gospel we will hear tonight (John 13). Only this year did it occur to me just why foot-washing was one of those things that a Hebrew slave could not be commanded to do; why it was considered degrading. Think about it: this is a society where beasts of burden were the principal means for the transportation of goods. And where people typically wore sandals. Foot-washing was bound to be a stinky, slimy business. More like changing a diaper than we tend to think of when we see the priest in a white alb and maybe a crystal ewer of water. That is why the apostles were so dismayed! If the Lord and Master was doing such an embarrassingly intimate and lowly sort of service, they knew what was going to be expected of them. And Jesus said it would be that kind of attitude of service that would be the sign that testified to his own presence: By this will they know that you are my disciples; if you have love for one another.