I’ve been worshiping at Episcopal Churches on Maundy Thursday for more than 20 years; the last ten participating actively in the liturgy in some way. I’ll never forget the first time I witnessed the procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the Altar of Repose and the Stripping of the Altar. It was at St. Paul’s Newburyport, MA. It broke me.
I don’t know how people experience it in the pews but I do know that of all the liturgies throughout the year, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are times that I am caught up in the ritual even as I am thinking about what’s going to happen next and worrying that something might go wrong. None of it matters. The drama of the Triduum transcends any of the rest of our mundane concerns, even when, as tonight, there were issues with the sound system and flickering lights.
Ritual connects us with God. It also connects us with all of the communities in which we have experienced those rituals in the past. It also connects us with communities who are performing and experiencing those rituals in different ways across the world. Maundy Thursday especially connects me with my past. Not just with those congregations where I have worshiped or participated, or celebrated in the past, but also with my deeper past.
I grew up in the Mennonite Church. At that time, communion was celebrated twice a year and included not just the Lord’s Supper but also footwashing. Baptized members washed each other’s feet and greeted each other with the Holy Kiss. The power of those symbolic acts remained with me long after I left my home church when I graduated from High School. I suspect that the next time I actually attended a footwashing was that first Episcopal Maundy Thursday service in Newburyport in the early 90s. And I know that those powerful memories kept me from participating in it for myself as an Episcopalian until I had to, when I was serving at the altar, as a Postulant for Holy Orders.
Now when I wash feet and when my feet are washed, I think back to that Mennonite congregation in which I was raised and where I was baptized. I remember washing the feet of friends, of men my dad’s age, and of elderly men. And I remember having my feet washed by them. Most poignantly, I remember my dad, who was usually the song leader and as we washed our feet, he would lead us out in familiar hymns that we would sing, a Capella, as we imitated Jesus Christ, serving each other and demonstrating in that lowly and uncomfortable act, Christ’s commandment to love one another as he loved us.
So tonight, I was remembering my dad. I was also remembering the people of West Clinton Mennonite Church in rural Wauseon, OH. I was remembering the people of St. Paul’s Newburyport, of All Saints Chapel, Sewanee, of All Souls’ Cathedral, Asheville, of St. Margaret’s, Boiling Springs, SC, Church of the Redeemer and St. James, Greenville, and Grace, Madison, WI. I was remembering all of them as I was remembering those disciples gathered with their Lord in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago.
And I was also mindful of images from today. Of Pope Francis, who continues to surprise, washing the feet of a young Muslim female prisoner and of the foot care clinic at the Church on the Green in New Haven, CT
And from the Church on the Green
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’” Jn 13:34-35