It was on this day (March 13) in 2013, when the wider church felt a bit of a jolt. Our Roman Catholic siblings in Christ were already taken aback when their Pope Benedict XVI announced he would basically retire from his position. And then, an archbishop from Argentina, of all places, named Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was lifted up to fill the pontiff role. After all, the ones south of the equator typically didn’t receive hardly any due consideration by their higher-up brethren. As much as the joke can be made about however many Lutherans it takes to change a light bulb (or anything for that matter) with the conclusion, “Change!?!?!?!” our Roman Catholic neighbors aren’t exactly the new-anything lovers, either.

Nevertheless, it may be rather un-Lutheran to say, but I eagerly waited for the white smoke to emerge from Vatican City. I was one of the millions worldwide eagerly viewing the coverage. It’s not that I was thinking about switching sides or anything (although the Catholics know how to pull off some mesmerizing pomp and circumstance, to say the least), but I was rather interested in what was next for them…and for us, too. In the end, we once die-hard enemies in Europe have to continue to learn to play nice with each other, do ministry together, care for the world the same-God-of-us-all still loves…together. Was there a chance that the next one who would greet the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, and a wondering crowd throughout the world, might be a source of hope for an actual united body of Christ?

That isn’t to say Pope Benedict XVI was outright anti-Lutheran-anyone. Come to think of it, there were/are probably just as many Protestants who were/are downright anti-anything to do with the Roman Catholic Church as vice-versa. We all have some work to do on that front, to put it mildly, but it would certainly help if the most recognizable figure in mainline church ministry would be a beacon for such holy togetherness.

So, in the last decade-plus of Pope Francis’ chapter in the papacy, there have certainly been reasons for such once-impossible possibilities. Granted, the floodgates have not been completely shattered open for us Protestants taking Communion at St. Mary’s, or the like, or for full-on female ordinations or the complete openness to those of the LGBTQIA+ community. There has certainly been progress, but we still have work to do: and not just in Vatican City, but for all of us everywhere.

However, if there is one image that will stick with me of Pope Francis’ ministry, it will be his annual tradition on Maundy Thursday, when he oftentimes goes to a local prison, and washes the inmates’ feet before giving them Communion. It’s not just that the supposedly high-and-mighty Pope (which this one doesn’t seem too interested in anyway) is stooping down to wash anyone’s feet, let alone convicted criminals; it’s that he’s proclaiming a most powerful part of the Holy Week story that cannot be overlooked.

Even Judas gets a piece of bread at the Last Supper for Jesus directly with his disciples. Even Judas, the betrayer, the one who would be considered the worst of the worst for many children of God (Catholic, Lutheran, whatever), still gets to taste hope. Even Judas gets love. Even Judas gets to be included in the body of Christ.

Yes, we still have work to do…all of us do. But we can get down to ministry together in the meantime. We can do our little, but most precious proclamations of hope and love and mercy and compassion. Even if church higher-ups may not always be the most consistent sources inspiring a united body of Christ, we give thanks that we have been set free to go and do it ourselves anyway, in whatever way we can. Amen (so let it be)!

In Christ,
Pastor Brad

Image: from Vincenzo Pinto (AFP)