This is the first Maundy Thursday in maybe 800 years without mass. Notre Dame is empty but for the ashes of her considerable hat, and the waterlog of the saving spray. There must be people who always have the triduum at Notre Dame, and this time, for the first year, they will hear the Passover story, the Last Supper story, somewhere else. They will get eucharist from different silver or gold. They will watch a different altar stripped. Or they will stay home.
The last two years have been one long Lent to me. I didn’t need any additional practice. I went back to church on Ash Wednesday, after a hiatus, and feeling good about returning was enough. It wasn’t God’s fault that the president lied so much. That the holiness of accepting the stranger was ignored. Well, it is, but I guess I set it aside. The only way I can make sense of it is to say that on a terrible reality television show I watched, a couple talked about being completely disconnected, though still married, and hoping someday they would feel married again. It was like that.
This year I went to new, small town church, two blocks away. Maybe because of Notre Dame, I noticed the floor was linoleum. I noticed I wasn’t at Kansas City’s cathedral– no Notre Dame, but with haunting icons up front, of Christ, Peter, John. I wasn’t at the magnificent downtown church I went to in Manhattan, with her enormous ceilings, stained glass Jesus and saints. I wasn’t at the little church I went to in Brooklyn, which was painted like I’ve only seen French churches painted. Every other church I’ve frequented, I chose partly because I found it inspiringly beautiful. Not so much this church. It’s just all right.
I wasn’t sure if they would foot wash. It’s the outer limits of what Episcopalians can accommodate, so much touching. But they did. I lined up. A young man in front of me quietly asked if I wanted to go first. I said I was fine either way. I said I was experienced. That’s good, he said, because this is my first time.
So he sat first, and I poured the water and touched his feet.
The process of doing this, and having it done, a little water, hands, and a towel pat dry, made me present. When I got back to my pew, I knew I had hands, and they were touching the wooden rail in front of me, and my fingers were touching each other, and the kneeler was padded, and I was breathing.
I’ve been waiting for this big day, The Mueller Report. I listened to a lot of commentary on the radio, read my usual news online, refreshing the home pages hoping for more. I feel numb. It’s gone on so long, the insults to care and compassion. A president who name-calls and lashes out with hate. The insults to the concept of democratic dialogue, acknowledging the other side, and staying committed to truth. Even if spun, or winked at, still: truth.
There are more ancient things than democracies. Notre Dame knows that. I remember seeing the lines at La Chapelle, nearby: below here, the revolutionaries stored grain, and above here, the walls were left with their paint. Notre Dame was beat up at that same time. I don’t blame them. I would have wanted to beat up The Church. Sometimes I still do.
She is ancient, letting wounds bruise, letting the swelling set in. Her people let her rest until she’s ready to be cleaned, and dried, and dressed again.
Image: detail of Rose Window, Notre Dame.