Maundy Thursday reminds us to love one another, even in a world of strife
* NOTE: not only did my priest decide to read this column before our parrish, but retired Episcopal Bishop of Colorado Jerry Winterwood wrote a glowing letter-to-the-editor about it that touched my heart.
About the time this newspaper hits my driveway, I will be standing outside St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lakewood accepting a palm frond to carry into our sanctuary. In the Christian faith, Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and ends just before Easter. Given the cacophonous turmoil over the past year, I’m looking forward to the respite of peace Holy Week’s rituals always provide me.
Headlines dominated by sexual predators, mass shootings, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, nuclear strike warnings, electoral espionage, trade wars, racial unrest, nondisclosure agreements, serial bombers, shrinking newspapers, special prosecutors, and tweetstorms — just to name a few — became a daily barrage over the past year. Or, more accurately, they became the “ping” on my iPhone every five minutes.
Turning off the phone and sitting in a pew brings me serenity difficult to find elsewhere. While I don’t attend every week, I do consider myself a regular church-goer. During Holy Week, I will go four to five times. From the triumphant arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the mournful Passion of Christ on Good Friday and the expectant vigil of Holy Saturday before Easter’s spiritual daybreak, every service has its own unique rhythm and intonation.
My favorite, and the one I need the most again this year, is Maundy Thursday. The central message of the mass is the last lesson of Christ, his most important commandment, and the universal truth unbounded by any one religion or lack thereof: “Love one another.”
Children implicitly understand that message, but it seems our adult world cannot come to grips with it. Time and time again we fall abysmally short. Cable news chyrons stream our failures nonstop and acrimonious debates rage on over social media. Of course, Holy Week also addresses the concepts of imperfection, sin, redemption, and resurrection, a reminder that there is always time for salvation and to correct our actions. Which brings me back to the Maundy Thursday mass.
Loving one another starts with simple actions. As Jesus taught by deed as much as word, every Maundy Thursday many Christians embrace the ritual of foot washing He modeled on His last night among us. As my Catholic wife loves to point out, Pope Francis has consciously highlighted the importance of loving service by washing the feet of inmates, refugees, and women and children. It is incredibly powerful imagery to see one of the world’s most holy individuals humbling himself before people many of us would pass by without notice.
In my church, the whole congregation participates. Rector Allan Cole, our North Carolinian priest whose sermons invoke the easy grace of Sunday storytelling among friends, invites parishioners and visitors alike to remove their shoes and socks and step in line to wash each other’s’ feet. Thankfully, Father Allan understands that even simple acts of love can be difficult. Kneeling before another person, putting your hands on their feet, pouring water over them, and scrubbing away the soil from their travels is deeply personal and can cause a tad of anxiety, if not nausea. Consequently, he sprinkles his request liberally with humor, empathy, and reassurance. As he explains without fail, sometimes the hardest part isn’t even washing someone else’s feet, its letting them return the service to you. Fear of judgement or rejection can be a bigger obstacle to love than failure to serve. Loving one another requires each of us to open ourselves as recipients as well.
One by one, we will file to the front of the church and trade places, washing and being washed, serving and being served, loving and being loved. This is how I renew my faith every year, not just in God and His love, but also in humanity and our potential for love. After years like the last, that seems particularly important.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and Denver Post columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq