St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church

3800 East Third Street

Bloomington, Indiana 47401

(812) 332-5252


Meditation for Maundy Thursday (March 24, 2016)

Liturgical Color: Purple

Reverend Colleen Montgomery


Renee de France

Jesus surprises us again in the gospel reading from John. From his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to Mary of Bethany anointing his feet with extremely costly oil on the Wednesday of Holy Week, Jesus takes on a different posture tonight, though perhaps equally surprising as these two moments. He takes on the posture of a servant, the one who washes the dust and dirt and grime of the streets of Jerusalem off the feet of disciples. Jesus catches the disciples, especially Peter off guard. Once he understands, he over compensates and asks to be washed all over. Jesus lovingly calms his down and says, no, no my friend, that is not necessary. This enough. But please remember what I'm saying tonight, what I'm doing tonight, and love one another as I have loved you.

Our woman of the reformation for tonight also brings her own surprises. Renee de France was born in a very Catholic France, 1510. She was the eldest daughter of King Louis XII and Anne of Brittany. Her gender was a surprise and a disappoint to her parents who were hoping for a boy and male heir to the throne. Renee would have been the king if she were a boy. Her mother died at age 4, so Renee was raised by her aunt Marguerite de Navarre, who we learned about last Wednesday. As you may have guessed, Renee was exposed to Reformation principles at a very young age through her aunt. Overall, Renee was incredibly educated- science, philosophy, classical authors, history, Latin, Greek, maybe Hebrew, astronomy. As an adult, other than her Reformation tendencies, her major flaws in the eyes of her French aristocrat peers were that she wasn't very pretty and that she wasn't a good letter writer- faithful and diligent, but not great with language.

Renee had many potential husbands throughout her life, which is not surprising, given that she was a French princess. However, I find her first engagement surprising, as she was first engaged an infant. However that fiancÚ died before they could wed at a more appropriate age. Huge political potential rested in her marriage. After several failed suggestions, she married Ercole d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. A mere duke for the eldest princess was a surprising and odd choice. However, the hope of this marriage was to tighten the relationship between Catholic French and Catholic Italy, and ideally gain some papal favor. However, this did not turn out as well as her father hoped. Renee obeyed her father, but she was not excited to move to northern Italy and leave France behind. She refused to learn Italian and did not interact affectionately with her subjects.

Renee spent her entire marriage and adult life caught in the middle of two religious entities. On the one hand, she had her VERY Catholic heritage, husband, siblings, and some of her children. On the other hand, she was greatly influenced by the French Reformation thanks to Aunt Marguerite. She was in regular communication with Jean Calvin, the leader of the French Reformation, and was friends with other leaders. The Huguenots, the French reformers, were seen as enemies to the throne of France. So her association, friendship, and theological debate with them was seen unfavorably by her father and her brother who later became king. Despite huge pressures from both church bodies, Renee never exclusively committed to one "side" which is surprising to me. She never completely explicitly said which was her personal religion. Instead, she was deeply and thoroughly committed to religious freedom for her subjects, a privilege she wasn't able to have. Perhaps even more remarkable was her offer of unilateral protection to those who faced religious persecution. She consistently welcomed Huguenot, Catholic, and Jewish refugees into her home. Renee was extremely generous and hospitable, traits that won her Italian subjects over to her.

Both church bodies always wanted more of a commitment from her. Calvin wrote her regularly to encourage her, support her, and try to convince her to make public statement of Protestant faith. This would have been a huge asset to his Reformation efforts in France. On the other side, Renee was put under direct supervision of the pope, instead of her reporting to location Catholic authorities.

Renee never fully broke from her Catholic heritage, but even after persecution, exile, and facing the Inquisition, she still welcomed Protestants into her court and protected them. More than being ultimately committed to either Catholicism or Protestantism, she was most committed to God, to the cultivation and protection of religious freedom, and to intolerance of using violence in religious persecution. Renee dealt swiftly with those who violently attacked others because of their religion, regardless of whether they were Catholic or Protestant.

The image that comes to mind for me is a schoolyard at recess. Two teams are lining up to play kickball. We have the Catholic Kickers and Huguenot XXX. Both team captains really, really want her. The Catholic Kickers have her husband and her brother, begging her to come with them. The Huguenot XXX has Jean Calvin, her aunt, and other friends, saying no come over here! Being a French princess kickball all star- she would be a huge player for either team. But instead of ever really picking a team, she walks away from the game to another part of the playground. Instead of playing the game she helps the other kids who are being picked on, teased, or beat up, and brings them into her safety. She walks away from the theological debate, the political game, and instead tends to the ones who are being oppressed and persecuted.

Of course in reality, Renee was never able to fully disengage from the political repercussions of her Protestant leanings. Due to her lack of explicit commitment to the Catholic church, Renee faced persecution twice in her life. Given her status as a princess and duchess, she was really more aggressively interrogated than was appropriate. I think this means the Catholic church was VERY displeased with her to break such a societal norm. The second persecution was very intense. She was separated from her children and exiled. Eventually Renee was freed when she gave a Catholic confession. Upon returning home, many of her books and letters were burned. Some describe her as a public Catholic but Protestant at heart.

Renee outlived her husband and was eventually set to rule Montargis, France. In this city she promoted religious freedom and continued to fight against religious violence. She continued to shelter heretics from all walks of faith. When she died in 1575, she was buried at her castle in France. Her funeral was exceedingly simple and minimally Catholic.

Despite the many surprises that scatter her life, from her marriage, to her indiscriminate welcome of immigrants, the persecuted, the heretics, to her promotion of religious tolerance, I'm left wanting a little bit more from Renee. I want more of Jesus' transformation from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday. This is the week of our deep reflection on Christ emptying himself for us, Christ giving himself up for us. In reading Christ's story next to Renee's, I want more from her. I want her coming into life as a princess and going out like Mother Teresa. Full royalty to full servant. But this isn't what happened. This isn't who she was. She was not Jesus. What she was a real woman, a real princess, a real mother, a real theologian, who used her power and privilege to shelter and protect those who needed it. Despite hardship and persecution, she stayed loyal to her commitment welcome the enemies of throne into her home. And this is honestly probably better than her turning out to be Mother Teresa. Jesus is the one who saves, and Renee can be a faithful saint who shows us how to care for those who need it in the face of extreme political and familial pressure.

While our circumstances are somewhat different than Renee, intense political and religious debate do mark our country and our church. I invite you to reflect on the convictions that we are stuck between, here in the US in the 21st century. Is there a right side? Is there a wrong side? And perhaps more pertinent to Renee's core, is there something more important all together, like the well being of others, that we should be paying attention to instead of theological debates?

What kickball games do we need to walk away from so that we can instead really care for the weak and the suffering?

What is the privilege that we need to give up into order to really love the way that Jesus did?

Or what privilege do we need to utilize in order to advocate for justice alongside the oppressed?

As we enter into these Three Days, let us remember the actions and words from Christ from his last supper. Let these three days be marked with love, God's love for us. Our love for one another. Love that stretches beyond boundaries, borders, political affiliation, and family loyalties to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, heal the broken, and love each person as the beloved child of God that they truly are.

 

 

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