Experiencing Love in Holy Week

For the last two years on Good Friday, I published a post written after I attended the afternoon Good Friday services at my church. You can read that here. This year, I am unable to attend the afternoon services, but I will attend this evening’s Tenebrae Service. A lovely, candlelit service where we wait for the mystery of the resurrection.

Last night I attended another one of my favorite services of the year, Maundy Thursday. The Maundy Thursday service is the ritual foot washing, service among those congregants who wish to participate. The service reminds us of the caring and loving example that Jesus showed his disciples when he washed their feet. This foot washing service makes some people uncomfortable. I understand. I love this ritual but it took me a bit to become accustomed to it. Even the apostle Peter felt uncomfortable having Jesus wash his feet.

I sat in the pews with Juan and listened to the sermon in preparation of the foot washing, when I heard the rector say something which kind of startled me. He said, participation was greater than belief. He explained that one could be “religious” and believe in the mystery of the cross and the resurrection, but that was not greater than participation. He went on to say that Jesus gave us an example of participation when he washed his disciples feet, when he broke bread and served wine to the apostles during his Passover meal. Jesus gave us an example of participation when he did all of this on the last night he was alive, and when he told his followers to, “love one another as I loved you.”

I sat in the pew, moved by the prayers, the hyms, the dimly lit church and I watched as others in around me got up from the pews to have their feet washed and wash each others feet. Juan leaned over and said, “I want to be like Peter. I don’t feel like getting my feet washed.” I smiled at him and nodded. I understood how Juan, and maybe Peter felt.

This year Holy Week arrived before I was ready. I didn’t have a chance to get a pedicure. My toe nail polish was a mess, my feet were callused. I really didn’t want to wash anyone else’s feet either. Then, I thought about the photo I had seen earlier in the day. The photo of Pope Francis washing a woman’s feet and kissing them. So humble. So loving. How must that woman have felt?

Pope washes feet of young detainees in Holy Thursday ritual - Getty Images

Pope washes feet of young detainees in Holy Thursday ritual – Getty Images

Juan and I left our pew and walked to the foot washing station. I knelt before another parishioner who was seated before a basin. I introduced myself to her and one of the acolytes brought me a jug of warm water and a clean towel. I knelt down before the woman and poured the water over her delicate feet. I rinsed them, using my hands. I thought about what it meant to participate in this religious ritual. What it meant to be a servant, and care for others the way Jesus demonstrated to us. When I was done I dried her feet and we switched places. The acolyte brought us clean water, a dry towel, and an empty basin. She washed my feet, gently, carefully. It seemed to take forever. All the while I was aware of how uncomfortable I felt. Sure, I get pedicures, but this was so different. I could tell by the care she took to wash my feet that she was doing this out of love.

Perhaps that’s why the particpation part of religion is so important. I could have sat in the pew and prayed, sang hyms and gazed at the beauty of my surroundings. I could have looked on as everyone else particpated in the foot washing. I might have stood by while everyone else experienced love and demonstrated love. But, I woud have missed out on fully experiencing the most important message of day and Jesus’ lesson to us all, “love one another.”


What’s So Good About Good Friday?

This is a post from last year on Good Friday. Last night,  I went to the Maundy Thursday service at my church. Again, my heart was stirred during this beautiful ritual. Today, I will attend Good Friday Service and I expect to be transformed by the message of God’s love and the meaning of this day. If you are in the Pasadena area, I invite you to attend any of the glorious Easter celebrations at All Saints Church. Or, take a look at some of the offerings on this You Tube Channel. However, you celebrate (or don’t) this weekend, know that you are beloved in the heart of God. 

I  was raised Roman Catholic, and while our family wasn’t devoutly religious, we were pretty observant. I made my First Holy Communion at age 7, my confirmation when I was 14 and we attended church on a semi-regular basis. Growing up, I also dappled in other religions, Quaker, Pentecostal and even the born-again movement. But, for me the other religions always felt like I was wearing someone else’s shoes. I kept missing the peace I felt with liturgical aspects of the Catholic faith. That’s not to say I felt like the Roman Catholic faith for me was a perfect fit either.  I married, then divorced, and as I formed my own opinions about birth control, choice and women as church leaders, I felt less and less like the “Roman Catholic shoes” were a perfect fit. It wasnt’ until I found my current church and the episcopal faith did I feel like I had found the perfect shoes to use walking in my faith.  I love the ritual, tradition and the fact that I don’t have to check my brain at the door of my episcopal church.

I also love this moment in the liturgical calendar. Holy week is meaningful to me because it makes me pause and think about what Jesus and his message was all about.  Even if I didn’t keep my Lenten discipline this year (and almost every year),  I know I am profoundly loved and God accepts my imperfect self, as God loves and accepts us all.  This was Jesus’ message, and one which was not received in his time by those who felt threatened by it, by those who feared his radical message of love and inclusion.  It is still a message which isn’t accepted by those who are fearful of what love and inclusion will do to their power.

I didn’t intend for this to be a preachy post but I have been so moved by what this day, Good Friday, means to me.  I attended my church’s Good Friday service today. I loved it. It was solemn, sad, and beautiful.  Last night, too, I attended the Maundy Thursday service. It is another one of my favorite services of the year.  It is a service which demonstrates the caring and loving example that Jesus showed his disciples. Those of us who wished to,  performed the foot washing ritual on each other.  At the conclusion of the service, the altar was ceremoniously stripped of its adornments, in preparation for the solemness of Good Friday. Today, at the Good Friday service, the altar bare and the chancel empty, the clergy wearing only their black cassocks and no other vestments, provided a powerful backdrop for the meditations on the meaning of this day. At the conclusion of today’s service I wept as the choir sang the spiritual “Were You There When They Crucified my Lord?” I was moved by the humility of my rector as he knelt with reverence at the chancel steps,  I was humbled God’s grace as I realized that Jesus’ life was meant to be the example of perfect love for the human family, and I was filled with joy and anticipation as I realized that this example of love, inclusion and justice is all I need to go out into the world and meet the challenges of life.  For me, that is what is good about Good Friday.

Sunday Offerings – Singing a New Church into Being

This morning I woke up and nearly got to spend my morning just the way I like: sleeping in, drinking coffee in bed, and surfing the internet. I say, “nearly” because as often happens with a house full of kids and scheduling glitches, at the last minute I had to cut my Internet surfing short and hurriedly dress for church. You can imagine what all that rushing around did to my state of mind before I got to church.  But, today all the excitement getting to church, was matched only by all the excitement that was happening at church.  Our church, All Saints Pasadena, didn’t just have one bishop there, there were two. In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the blessing of same-sex covenants, Gene Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire, the first openly gay bishop ordained in the Episcopal church, and Mary Glaspool, one of the female bishops in the Los Angeles Episcopal diocese, who just happens to be a lesbian, celebrated with us.

Bishop Gene gave a wonderful sermon, based on today’s Gospel, Mark 1:21-28.  In his sermon Gene stated how experiencing the love of God through Jesus is like exorcising all those unclean spirits which Jesus cast out in the Gospel lesson. I thought how ironic that this reference of “unclean” probably has been used to by some Christians against LGBT brothers and sisters, but here was Gene referring to the “unclean spirits” as those spirits in all of us which keep us from thinking we are not pretty enough, not wealthy enough, not smart enough, and not worthy to experience God’s love. It was a powerful message indeed. But, that was not moved me the most, it was the entrance hymn,  “Sing a New Church.” The refrain of the hymn goes:

Let us bring the gifts that differ and in splendid, varied ways, 

Sing a new church into being, One in faith and love and praise.

– Words: Dolores Dulner, OSB (1991)

As I sang this hymn  I was so moved thinking about the wonderful ministry of Gene and Mary. I thought about how the Church has so many people in it, people of varying color, gender, sexuality–all splendid gifts from God. I thought about All Saints and its bold undertaking 20 years ago, daring to bless the covenant of Phil Straw and Mark Besson. I was so happy to be a part of my faith community, so proud to be a part of today’s celebration, and thrilled to be singing a new church into being, with all my brothers and sisters.

Sunday Offerings – All Saints Sunday

Today at church we celebrated All Saints Day, honoring all those connected to our church family who have died since November 1, 2010. This service is usually very solemn and somber. The music offerred at this service is usually very moving and emotional. Today was no different. The music, traditionally a requiem was called Lux aeterna by Morten Lauridsen, and performed by a chamber orchestra and our church’s choir. It was stunning. But, this requiem, or mass for the dead, while emotional, was not somber. Rather, the music was uplifting. So too, was the sermon. Consequently, while this day marks the death of loved ones, and my grandmother’s name was among the many listed in the litrugy, I did not feel sad during the service. Our rector’s sermon, entitled, “Life is Changed, Not Ended,” spoke about giving your grief to God, transforming it to love and empowering change in the world. Actually, that’s probably not a fair summary of the many nuggets of truth from his sermon. Here’s a link to this sermon on All Saints Sunday, so you can hear it for yourself.

And here’s a bit of the beautiful music from today’s service.

Lux aeterna