Much of what we know about the liturgy of Holy Week comes down to us through history from a 4th century nun named Egeria, who documented in detail her three-year pilgrimage through the Holy Land. It seems fitting then to be celebrating Holy Week–and especially the Triduum, the Three Days–with 21st century nuns.
The Visitation Sisters celebrate the Triduum in a wholly unique way. We began these three sacred days with washing one another’s feet. While many Christians are accustomed to washing one another’s feet, the heart of Jesus’s Mandatum or mandate to love one another, very few, celebrate Jesus’s new command in such an intimate way. Although we’ll join the parish community in their foot-washing tonight, the monastic community gathered in chapel this afternoon to sing, to pray, to read Jesus’s challenge, and to wash, bless, and kiss one another’s feet.
As we washed each other’s feet–the Sisters washing their prayer partner’s feet, Sister Mary Virginia washing Brenda’s, Heidi and I washing each other’s–we were invited to spiritually wash the feet of a disinherited group, provided for us on a slip of paper. The Sisters have been working and praying to curb global indifference this Lent, culminating in these prayers around the basin today. I prayed for those living in war zones. Another prayed for women being trafficked in our neighborhood. Another prayed for at-risk children and youth.
After each foot washing, we sang a modified version of a familiar hymn:
fill us with your love,
teach us how to serve
the sisters we have from you
Our very intimate liturgy ended in a circle, hands clasped together, eyes closed, and praying to the Father in the words that Jesus gave us.
Washing feet is a profoundly uncomfortable experience–in Jesus’s time, as in ours. When Jesus bent down to wash his disciples’ feet, everybody felt uncomfortable. The disciples were unaccustomed to their teacher serving them. I’m sure that Jesus, who knew his place in society and his role in salvation, was really weirded out doing this thing that he had never done before, that he was never expected to ever do. The whole affair was absolutely bizarre. The same is true today. Heidi and I live together in community, but pouring water over her feet, washing them, drying them, and kissing them in blessing was profoundly uncomfortable, only slightly less uncomfortable than her repeating the process with my feet.
And that’s how it should be.
The Triduum should make us feel profoundly uncomfortable–and in many different ways. It’s a very emotional and spiritually draining few days (not to mention exhausting physically if you’re at all involved in parish liturgy.) We wash feet, process with the Sacrament, crucify, genuflect, reverence, sit in vigil, wait, light fires, baptize, sing, rejoice, scream, jump for joy, shout every last Alle—- we can muster…
…and all in the span of three short days.
The exhaustion and the emotions are all a part of the experience. We do not come to the Triduum as disembodied spirits. We come as real, living, flesh-and-blood persons with plenty of personal, communal, and institutional baggage.
Just like the disciples did.
And just like Jesus does.