Images of Maundy Thursday

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

If you’ve not seen them, here’s a shot of Pope Francis today20130328cnsbr14973

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

A new spirit blowing in the churches? Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury

It’s all quite disorienting. A new pope who seems reluctant to accept the trappings of his office and reaches out to ordinary people. For example, he is going to break with tradition by celebrating Maundy Thursday in a prison for youthful offenders, washing the feet of prisoners rather than those of retired clergy. A new Archbishop of Canterbury whose style is very different from Rowan Williams and who has in his early statements, tried to reach out to bridge some of the most difficult divisions in the Church of England. Perhaps more important still, the ecumenical gestures that have broken new ground–the presence of the Greek Orthodox patriarch in Rome on March 19, and the wonderful diversity in the enthronement service yesterday.

I’m tempted to see something of a new spirit beginning to blow throughout Christianity from the simple, yet powerful gestures of Pope Francis. No doubt there are rumblings of discontent in the back alleys and hidden corners of the Vatican, but the stultifying, rigid conservatism of the last decades has for a moment at least been sidelined by a spirit of humility, simplicity, and tenderness (the prominence of that word in the Pope’s homily noted by several commentators). That is not to say that the Pope is less conservative doctrinally than his predecessors, but by choosing to focus on other things, he is changing the tone and perception of the Roman Catholic Church in popular culture.

Both leaders face significant problems and it remains to be seen whether they will be any more skillful in negotiating those conflicts than their predecessors. Still, we can hope.

Some commentary on the enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury

A little background and summary of the event.

David Sinden links to photos, highlight videos, etc.

His Grace has this to say. An excerpt:

The moment the great oak doors of Canterbury Cathedral were flung open, the fanfare seemed to blow away an entire age of theological aloofness and stuffy ecclesiology. We had a new and vibrant liturgical dialogue, written by the Archbishop himself, explaining the whole meaning of the day to a nation that no longer knows or cares. The interrogation by the Christian child, Evangeline Kanagasooriam, was brief. But its illumination could not have been brighter.

“Who are you and why do you request entry?”

“I am Justin, a servant of Jesus Christ, and I come as one seeking the grace of God, to travel with you in his service together.”

An interview with the new Archbishop of Canterbury

Colin Coward reflects on another interview with the ABC:

The new Archbishop said: “You see gay relationships that are just stunning in the quality of the relationship.” He told the BBC he had “particular friends where I recognise that and am deeply challenged by it”. Justin Welby clearly has gay friends, partnered gay friends, and knows perfectly well that their relationships are equal in love and quality to those of his married friends and of his own marriage.

A new ecumenical spirit?

Pope Francis urges dialogue with Muslims.

His relationship with the Jewish community of Argentina.

His message of greetings to the new Archbishop of Canterbury.

Early reflections on the new pope

The selection of Cardinal Bergoglio as pope set off a flurry of speculation. His opposition to Argentina’s legalization of gay marriage and his role in the “dirty war” came under close scrutiny. How he will negotiate the curia, the crises facing Roman Catholicism, and everything else he has to be and do remains to be seen. But one thing has become clear. He is going to be a different kind of pope. Much has been made of his actions in the first few days of his papacy–returning with the other cardinals on the bus, paying his own hotel bill, wearing his own black shoes rather than the red shoes favored by his predecessors. He has dressed simply, refused to accept many of the symbols of his office, and sought to remain accessible to the people.

No doubt he will disappoint many Catholics and many others who want radical reform in the church. But reform can take many forms. His choice of the name Francis suggests that he will seek to make the church relevant to the lives of ordinary men and women across the world. If he is successful in doing so, not only will that mean a very different church, in the long run, it may also have a profound impact on the Church’s doctrine and practice.

From Reuters:

Pope Francis, giving his clearest indication yet that he wants a more austere Catholic Church, said on Saturday that it should be poor and remember that its mission is to serve the poor.

Is the new pope a reformer? From Phil Lawler at

To grasp the full significance of this new Pope’s chosen name, consider this: For 1,100 years, every newly elected Pontiff had chosen a name that had been used by some other Pope before him. Since Pope Lando, who ruled from 913 to 914, every Pontiff on the historical records has a Roman numeral after his name, and the only Pontiff who chose a new name, John Paul I, explicitly said that he was taking the names of the two Popes before him, John XXIII and Paul VI. So when he chose an entirely new name, Pope Francis showed that he was prepared to strike out in a new direction.

James Martin, SJ on the significance of a Jesuit pope

From John Haldane at First Things:

Having held the papacy for most of its history, and watched it go first to a Pole and then to a German, the Italians wanted it back; but they had the problem that much of the recent trouble suffered by the Catholic Church is seen to have arisen, or at least not to have been properly managed, within the Vatican which they dominate. On that account the tide turned against them, but it could have reversed had there been no prospect of timely agreement on a figure from elsewhere.

Another non-Italian European was always unlikely in part because Western Europe is seen to be the site of greatest secularization, and no European cardinal has shown much capacity for dealing with that. At the same time a North American would have been unpalatable to Europeans who dislike the USA’s global power. It was too early for an African or Asian, and so an Italo-South American, with a clean record, high intelligence, evident virtue, and pastoral commitment, who also knows (but is not enamored of) the Vatican, evidently commanded wide-support.

From Simon Barrow (Ekklesia)

Much of what can initially be said of this man may be summed up in the style of the Society of Jesus, which formed the new pope. At the centre of Jesuit life is a combination of the ‘Spiritual Exercises’ set in motion by its founder, Ignatius of Loyola, and a concern to engage the world through learning, culture, social justice, service and ecumenical dialogue.

Jesuits do not have an official habit, but in the Constitutions of the Society, declare: “The clothing too should have three characteristics: first, it should be proper; second, conformed to the usage of the country of residence; and third, not contradictory to the poverty we profess…”.

A collection of reflections from across the world compiled by the Australian Broadcasting Company

John Allen’s analysis of the conclave