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We cannot dispense with ritual altogether: nor should we want to. To do so is approximate life to the mechanical. Yet, such is the domination of the routine of life today that even the rituals of love are reduced to mere routines. For most people the Sunday Eucharist is little more than a religious routine. That is not all. Even intimate human relationships are being increasingly routinized at the present time. The living room is routinely done up, cleaned and aired. But the ritual of spending quality time together in the living room is becoming rarer and rarer. The living room is the most expensive but also the most underutilized part of our homes today. Alas, there is no life in our living rooms. Between work and tired sleep little space is left for rituals of love to survive. No wonder children and young adults assume they can have good times only outside their homes! The poverty of our homes is that love to the full extent is rarely expressed there. Home is all routine and those famished for the ritual of love look elsewhere.

All of us want to love; but none of us can claim, with any degree of certainty, that we love to the full extent. That is why we are nagged inwardly by the uncertainty whether or not we have ever loved! It is not because we do not want to love that we don’t, but because we do not bother to love to the full extent.

The reason why we fall short of expressing love to the full extent is that we exclude love from the routine of life. The very word ‘routine’ sounds, somehow, boring and loveless! Well, it does not have to be. But we have chosen to have it so. The routine too can catcg fire, as the bush in Midian did in front of Moses, if only we could grow towards the fullness of love.

Let us see what it means to integrate the ritual of love with the routine of love.

The very first thing that Jesus does, in this event, is to get up! He abandons the seat of pre-eminence. That is symbolic and significant. While we fondle love in the rituals we observe, we covet power, implicitly or explicitly, in the routine of life. It is power, not love that drives the systems and institutions, including family that we maintain. We limit love to the rituals of life and organize the routine of life in terms of power alone. The ritual of love calls for a ceremonial order; but, because we are oriented to power, we degrade this order into a hierarchy. Hierarchy inhibits love and togetherness. Hierarchy permits us to be together, but it devalues togetherness. Togetherness presupposes equality or worth, if not identity of roles. By getting up and abandoning his seat, Jesus renounces the mindset of hierarchy. You cannot get addicted to the seat of power and serve at the same time. S man cannot be the ‘head’ of his wife in a hierarchical sense and love his wife to the full extent or expect to be loved to the full extent. Nor can a wife love her husband to the full extent if she succumbs to the logic of hierarchy. “Headship,” as understood in the Bible, is sacramental and it is to be exercised within the ritual of love. By getting up, Jesus establishes a link between the ritual and the routine of life.

Secondly, Jesus puts on the attire of service. He takes of His outer clothing and wraps a towel around his waist. It would not be appropriate to imagine, for a moment, a kitchen apron on Jesus. It is not the specifics of the dress that matter, but the intent. Jesus upholds the honor and dignity of service, of labor, through this gesture. It is not difficult for people to see that there is love in organizing a ceremonial meal. But, what about feet-washing? Can love be expressed in this manner? As a matter of fact, feet-washing may express love better than a ceremonial meal, depending on the context. Of course, the same can be done in a loveless fashion, as slaves do. Love makes the difference between service and slavery. Slavery is service devoid of ritual. It is nothing but routine. Love bridges ritual with the routine of life. It is not only that the servants’ towel finds its way into the ritual of this fellowship meal. It is also that the ceremonial clothes, by inheritance, should find their way also into the kitchen as well. The tragedy is that we have exiled the outer clothing of ritual from the routine in the kitchen. A wife, who ‘loves to the full extent’, however, understands the wisdom of draping herself in the ceremonial clothes of love even in the kitchen. That will ensure that whatever she cooks becomes a feast of love. When she offers this fellowship meal to the man who sits at the head of the table, how can he not get up and wash her feet with the waters of beatific gratitude? It takes a partnership of love to express love to the full extent.

This sounds odd and awkward only because we are conditioned in the logic of power. Love is like God. We continue God to a few hours each week. The rest of the time God is irrelevant to our life for all practical purposes, unless, of course, we get into serious trouble in between! So, it is with love in respect of the routine of life. It is mostly barren of love. The spiritual challenge, however, is to bring the ritual of love into this routine and transform it into a sacrament of fellowship and companionship.

What does it mean to express the full extent of love?

  1. The power of love: Most people assume love to be powerless thing in the world. That is simply because they have neither expressed nor experienced love to the full extent. Expressed in this manner, love is the greatest force in the world! It has the power to transform human beings, create the very foundation of peace, and change societies. It dismantles the walls of division and restores unity. Disunity and division are the symptoms of part-ness, not fullness. Disunity results, that is, from partial love. Love in its fullness is a sure and secure foundation for unity. Unity is power and love is the source of unity.

  2. A culture of love: Culture is a whole way of life. Love is not to be thought of an occasional indulgence, but as the matrix within which the whole of life is lived. Such a culture is marked by: (i) sharing, of which the love feast a symbol. A feast is nothing if not shared. (ii) Service. Within the culture of power the prestige is in being served. Not so, in the culture of love, as envisaged by Jesus. He came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for the sins of the world. (iii) A concern for the whole, as against the obsession with the rights and advantages of the part. The feet-washing that Jesus undertook needs to be seen in the light of His concern, to be articulated not long thereafter, for the unity of the disciples. His High Priestly prayer was, “that they may be one, even as we are one” [St. John 17:12]. Purity is a precondition for unity. Jesus envisaged this Love Feast as a unity sacrament.

Thus, then, is the quintessential spiritual mission: to express love to the full extent. What matters is not what we do, but whether or not we express love to the full extent through all that we do, which is the sole purpose of any spiritual enterprise. God sent His son, Jesus, into the world to express the fullness of love [St. John 3:16]. What runs consistently through Jesus’ public ministry is the eagerness to express the full extent of his love for all of humankind. All that we ever did – His teachings, His miraculous deeds and, finally, His death on the Cross – has one thing in common: the unveiling of the full extent of Love: the power, the wonder and the glory of it.

[Article concluded]


Rev. Dr. Valson Thampu, who combines wide-ranging experiences in higher education, social action, multi-faith initiatives, media, preaching, research and writing, has been engaged in mainstreaming the Christian presence in India. Leaving the certainties of a coveted job, he plunged into public life a few years ago and has become, in a short span of time, a household name. A proponent of the “spirituality of seeking,” as against the religiosity of mere compliance, Rev. Valson’s writings are distinguished for their originality of thought and freshness of style. All of his writings are a contemporary response to the words of Jesus, “Cast your net in the deep”.

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