In some places the washing of feet is controversial. Some people argue that it should not be only men who are chosen, but women too - after all, don’t live in an inclusive world? To leave a group of people out goes against all sense of equality and fairness - doesn’t it?
I knew a parish which was sensitive to the washing of feet for another reason - good old English squeamishness and reserve - and instead, in that place, to save the blushes of the people and the awkwardness of the priest, all the congregation were invited to come forward to wash their hands.
This odd custom alerts us to an important point. Symbolism does matter. The actions and ceremonies of the faith are not simply quaint customs, but they have deep meaning and power.
It is not of course the disciples who wash their hands, but Pilate. And Pilate washes his own hands, rather than has them washed for him. These are not just details. They make a difference. The one is an action of service and sacrifice, the other an abdication of responsibility. Symbolic actions are more than just symbols - they action enacts what it represents.
And so with the other symbols of this night - the bread and wine at the meal, the incidentals which for the rest of history overshadow all the other items shared and consumed. Bread which brings his Body to us, Wine which bleeds into our own hearts. Not the symbols of an absent Christ - but the bearers of his love. Where charity and love are, there is God.