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I'm preparing a class on the institution of the Eucharist and my text says

"The Gospel of John includes no mention of the institution of the Eucharist"

it goes on to give the account, for reasons unknown to me, of Jesus washing His disciple's feet. Which incidentally would have happened at about the same time as the institution of the Eucharist in the other Gospels. The thing I noticed here is that in the same way that Jesus says we should consume His Body and Blood in remembrance of Him, He also says that we should wash each others feet.

Do washing feet and the Eucharist have anything to do with each other? What could have made John write about washing feet and not what so certainly stuck out in the minds of the other Gospel authors and St. Paul.

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3 Answers 3

One theory is that John assumes his audience know one or more of the synoptic traditions and wrote to supplement the other gospels. If true, the "I am the Bread of Life" found in John 6:35 provides the philosophical background for the Eucharist custom. This might explain the reaction Jesus gets from His teaching:

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.—John 6:52-59 (ESV)

Even if you don't assume John wrote after the Synoptics, he would have known that his readers had access to the circumstances behind communion:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.—1st Corinthians 11:23-26 (ESV)

So instead of linking the practice to the final hours of Jesus' ministry, John links them to its start. He also connects the concept of Eucharist with the literal feeding of 5,000 in the first half of John 6.

Summary

John does mention the Eucharist, but not in the place we expect it to be from Paul's writing and the other gospels accounts. He ordered his account more for thematic reasons than for chronological or historical purposes.

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I'm still looking into this next claim, but perhaps, while the Synoptic Gospels give us parables (think: "The Kingdom of God is like..."), John does not. In the Synoptics, it seems that Jesus says that he speaks in parables to the crowds, but reveals the secrets to the disciples. In John, he speaks more openly. What I think is that John contains the meaning of the parables found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And what does this mean in regard to the Eucharist? In John, Jesus institutes the Great Commandment: Love one another...as I have loved you. It is more than just "love your neighbor as yourself."

And the model for this love is that:

1) the Word became flesh (in the beginning of John), and a member of our fallen race. 2) very concretely, the foot washing, 3) the death and resurrection.

"Foot washing", serving our fellow man, is the only way we can emulate Christ on earth, unless we are in an exceptionally situation (think soldiers or firemen, etc) who die to save others.

To get to the point: perhaps the Eucharist celebration is the outward sign and symbol of that great truth, a mystical act that reminds us of our great commandment. So where parable is expressed in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the meaning of the parable is explained in John. The true meaning of Jesus' life is represented by the bread and wine in those Gospels, but openly stated in John.

feedback?

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Welcome to Christianity—Stack Exchange! I don't think it's accurate to say the John doesn't give us parables. John gives us more complicated analogies, but they are still parables. Think of the vine and the branches, the Good Shepard, and the various "I am" sayings. But John does present a "bolder" Jesus--especially in the earliest days of His ministry. (Even so, +1 for your insights.) –  Jon Ericson Mar 15 '12 at 0:09

John's Gospel does not contain many of the things recorded in the Synoptics, including the Sermon on the Mount, the Transfiguration, the virgin birth, the Great Commission, and the Ascension. In fact, the only miracle outside of the Resurrection that appears in both the Synoptic gospels and John's gospel is the feeding of the 5,000.

This doesn't mean that John considered these things as unimportant at all. If John were, in fact, written much later than the other gospels, then perhaps John did not feel the need to replicate material that was already well established.

John writes for a very specific purpose, asserting that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31) So, the material he selects is done so for the purpose of supporting that premise. All the miracles and all the teachings center around that premise. The Eucharist appears to have not fit into that selection criteria for him, since it doesn't appear in the book.

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Right - and John specifically said he didn't have space for everything: John 21:25 –  Wikis Sep 30 '11 at 13:12

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