We can almost forget the holy significance of this day, Holy Saturday, as we go about Easter preparations and live our ordinary lives. For the bereaved, the day after we experience the death of a deeply loved one is truly profound. The often lengthy dying itself has been so difficult to witness, yet also there is a moment of peace at the very last. When Pastor Judy Beaumont breathed her last she exhaled with almost a cough and a gut level brief sound that caused her beloved sister, Jill and I to respond with love,relief, wonder and awe. As her spirit went to God she also shared it with us, her last breath falling like holy mist upon us. And then we saw the precious peace she now had. Good Friday had been long and hard. It would be a while before we could have that peace about losing her. First, in our holy Saturdays however many there may be, we would mourn and miss her everywhere. Yet the peace on her face was perhaps something like the peace that Jesus felt when he said “It is Finished”-with the meaning “I have accomplished it all!” And peace with the cessation of suffering.
The Saturday after Good Friday,we sense the difference on every level of our beings. No matter the belief in resurrection we experience the finality of death to us. For the faithful on this Saturday, we almost want to forget that Jesus lies in the grave as his loved ones weep and mourn. While he did tell them that he would rise in three days it must have been hard to believe after witnessing the horrors of Good Friday. And what could it mean? It had never happened before. They, and we as well, have no real understanding of what rising from the dead means. So, on holy Saturdays we are simply bereft.
The church recognizes the day on this Saturday as a day of mourning and contemplation. There are no Masses or church celebrations during the day. It can be a very long day. My friend Kathy Roddy told me that she keeps it as a day of holy silence. Many do the same as they meditate on the life and death of Christ and its meanings in our own lives. I hope you can have some of that silence today. Some add music like Pachelbel’s canon or Faure’s Requiem or favorite hymns or spirituals to deepen and texture the silence. But others may add noise to deafen the silence and rush ahead to Easter joy. That is a temptation, even for me. But this year silence is more welcome and more possible for me. God is there.
Saturday evening slowly approaches when we will meet in community and share the Easter Vigil. In the Roman church and others as well there is a particularly dramatic beginning to the Mass/Service. New fire is created outside of the church. It pierces the darkness as we look on. The priest lights a candle from this fire and proceeds to the altar where the Easter Candle is blessed and made ready for this new church year. Members of the congregation each hold a candle that is lit by the Easter Candle. We are all bathed in light-the light of Christ. We welcome the risen Christ into our midst in a holy and deeply joyful moment.
The candles are then extinguished and the electric lights come on as we listen to “salvation history/herstory” in many readings. The first is from Genesis 1:1-2:2 where God creates all and says “it is very good!”. We pray “Come, Lord Jesus, send us your Spirit,and renew the face of the earth”. With the reading from Ezekiel (36:16-28 we sing “Like a deer that longs for running streams, my soul longs for you, my God”. We herald the Gospel , this year from Mark 16:1-7, With joyful Alleluias.
In the Gospel we are returned to the darkness of the tomb as we follow Mary of Magdala, Salome and Mary the mother of James inside. The huge stone has been rolled away. They can’t believe their eyes as the tomb is empty. A young man in radiant white is sitting there and tells them: He is not here, he is risen”. They run away in a host of feelings including downright fear. But, they certainly tell the others as the word of his resurrection spread like wildfire down the centuries to reach even us today. Alleluia!
After the homily there is the liturgy of Baptism and Confirmation for those catechists, those who have studied and are being received into the church. My cousin Jackie recalls the beautiful night that happened. She did not need to receive baptism as we were baptized together many years before, but the whole night was one of receiving the light of Christ into her life.
Below are some pictures of a few of those we baptized at Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community on Easter and near it. In the last last two pictures Confirmation follows for the baptized.
The Congregation is also sprinkled with the water of Baptism as they renew their baptismal promises at the Easter Vigil. We sing “Come, o come, come to the river flowing from the body of Christ. We’ll go down deep in the water, but in the Lord we shall arise”. AMEN!
And after receiving the living Christ in the Holy Communion of the Eucharist we join in singing:
“Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleuluia”!
We are through the darkness, we are in the light, Alleluia!
Love and blessings this Holy Saturday,
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP
Today is the most solemn of days for followers of Christ. With compassion and sorrowful,heavy hearts we follow him to the Cross and his crucifixion. We enter a silent and holy space where we unite ourselves to Christ in his sufferings and as we do this we realize evermore how Christ’s sufferings and death unites him to us-how much God loves us and abides with us. It is our turn to abide with Jesus as he experiences the worst of being human-the inhumanity of our fellow human beings. Today there are a variety of ways to follow the way of the cross: to do it alone or in prayer, to do it inside of the church; to sit for three hours and reflect on Jesus’ words from the Cross; to be pilgrims and follow the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem; or to walk outside in the street and stop at many places where in our very neighborhoods Christ is still suffering. In many countries and in many ethnic neighborhoods in the United States the faithful walk the way of the cross before participating in a Good Friday Service.
In the pictures below a small group of faithful gather with their Pastors wearing red to symbolize the blood of Christ, to walk through the neighborhood outside of the Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community in Fort Myers,Florida. ( A group of elderly and others who have trouble walking are also praying The Stations of the Cross in the church). The cross, covered with handwritten prayers of the faithful, is carried this time by Quayschaun Crews. They may stop at the hospital, the known drug houses, the homes of sick or shut-ins , the Bail Bondsman’s store,the school, etc. They will pray at each spot for Christ’s love to restore to life and heal. And, they will reflect on Jesus’ being sentenced, falling, meeting his mother and the women, Simon the Cyrenian carrying the cross, and the crucifixion, death and entombment of Jesus the Christ. They will sing “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” with great depth of understanding. Then they will participate in the Good Friday Service that includes the veneration of the Cross and prayers for the world.
In following the Way of the Cross, we unite with Jesus and all who are just and treated unjustly-all who take on state and religious institutions to infuse them with greater love and suffer at the hands that should offer love and compassion. As we reflect upon Jesus’ journey to his crucifixion we also reflect upon the sufferings of humanity- from those who are gravely ill, to those who are victims of powerful and capricious others who use force where none is called for, to those who are simply different from others and left out of human mercy. We think of all those who are by human rules not welcome at the Eucharistic, Holy Communion Table where Jesus offers himself to us-and that is happening at the hands of the church he died to save and infuse with his love. Jesus invited all to the table and ate with sinners and saints alike yet man-made rules of churches refuse many including those who are divorced and remarried, those who are gay or on the LGBTQ spectrum and those who break any of the rules-like fully ordained Roman Catholic Women Priests who break the canon law stating only men can be ordained as they follow their call to the priesthood. In this year’s Passion Gospel from John we read that three women waited beneath the Cross with the Apostle John. Mary, his mother, his mother’s sister Mary, his Aunt, and Mary of Magdala. My heart breaks with those four who loved him so much they risked surrounding his cross with love while other disciples ran away. I can hear them weep and weep with them. And I weep with all who wait at crosses in their lives as loved ones suffer with illness, imprisonment, at war, or taken away into various forms of slavery. I thank God for the women and the young disciple who were with him that day. I pray that the young and the women may be welcomed to serve him as God calls.
The pictures below were taken at a rally for justice.
The sign below next to “Women priests are here” held by Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan,ARCWP reads “Love trumps Hate”-and that is exactly what Good Friday is about on every level of being.
As we follow Christ to the Cross we are mindful of the crosses we also bear, and some for righteousness sake. We realize the limits of human mercy as we embrace the vastness of God’s mercy in becoming fully human and suffering and dying as we do. The good news is that we can be sure that our God understands human pain and tragedy and that God loves us.
In her little book, Way of the Cross: Gateway to Resurrection, Joan Chittister, OSB writes: (The stations) require us to examine our entire philosophy of life. Jesus is condemned to die because he defied the standards of both the state and the religious establishment in which he lived. to both, he brought a truth they did not want to hear. He set out to witness to the love and justice of the God of all creation: Jews and non-Jews, women as well as men,underlings as well as the professional types of his time. He cured on the sabbath, mixed with foreigners, taught theology to women, played with children, questioned every law, chose people over ritual every time, never made authority a god. He threatened the establishment with his incessant attempts to build a better world,and they destroyed him for it.” She also asks “What in life is it for which we are willing to be condemned?” And at the last station, the tomb, she talks about the finality of some endings. she says “When Jesus submits to death of his ministry, when Jesus allows both state and synagogue to cast him out, one life ends so that another one can begin”. Indeed, after the agony of his emotional as well as physical suffering he says “It is finished” and is buried. Yet for him we know the tomb was a gateway to his resurrection. Chittister asks: Am I able to trust that the tombs of my life are all gateways to resurrection?” I pray that we are.
Jesus suffering on Good Friday causes those of us who love and try to follow him to “tremble, tremble, tremble”. The grievous events of our lives also may do this. There is no shame in this. There is no shame in love that follows, waits and weeps. But we now wait for the resurrection. Let us wait together.
May God be with us this day and in all of our sufferings and deaths,
Pastor Judy Lee
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee,RCWP
Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community, Fort Myers, Florida
Every single day and moment that we live is holy. Yet, to be with our beloved ones as they suffer and die is especially holy. In that “being with” we enter what the Irish call the “thin space” between heaven and earth when we can almost experience what is on the other side of this life. Perhaps it is when we realize that there is nothing more we can DO, but we can BE WITH, we are closest to God. This week is called Holy Week as we enter the Triduum (three days) of Jesus’ suffering beginning today on Holy Thursday and we follow him to the Cross on Good Friday,then beyond to glorious Easter dawn, Jesus’ rising from the dead, with the Easter Vigil. We can not close our eyes to the most difficult parts of living and dying and click our heels like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and jump to Easter, we must go through the agony of walking toward death with betrayal and angst, we must “face the music” and accept the cross and death, to get to Easter. I never understood this so well as when I spent the last days and moments with my beloved Aunt Edie in 1998 and now again with my beloved Judy Beaumont this December and January. The challenge is to enter the silence, retreat from the noises all around, with our beloved and just be with.
So we enter Holy Time and we take a while to really be with Jesus from today through the dawn of Sunday and Easter. On Holy Thursday in an evening Mass we celebrate Jesus’ last supper, His sharing of the unleavened bread and wine at the Passover meal as his very body and his very blood beginning a new covenant. Through Jesus giving up his life in a series of horrific events, God promises new and eternal life to the whole world. Life WILL follow death. Death is not the end. That truly is the good news. But we aren’t there yet. Jesus is not just celebrating a tradition he is starting a new one, offering himself as the way to be one with, reconciled to,our loving God. This last meal and the symbolism Jesus offers with it becomes the institution of Holy Communion, the Eucharist, our thankfulness for what Jesus has done, (Matthew 26:17-30). And it is awesome to realize what Jesus now must face. We begin our Holy Thursday Mass (or Service in other Christian traditions) with Jesus washing the feet of his disciples (John 13:1-15). Then we proceed to celebrating the Last Supper before his death.
We then put the remaining bread,the broken body of Christ, in repose at an altar of adoration to be used remembering God’s grace on Good Friday the only day of the year when we do not actually celebrate the Eucharist at Mass.
We begin with the washing of feet as Jesus did as it shows us HOW to live the life that Jesus has asked us to live if we are to follow him. To “be with” Jesus is not only to feel or understand his suffering and join in it with prayer, but to bow down to one another and serve one another. To wash feet you have to bow down, and so we have our loving and humble God bowing down to us. Wow! Our response is “Oh, no, not me, I am not worthy.” But Jesus tells us “you need to be made clean, and I will wash you”. If God is so humble, we have no choice but to offer our feet, and to then bow down before the next one,especially those neighbors most beaten and broken by life’s blows and do the same. Today I think of the undocumented immigrants who work very hard and get dirty at jobs no one else will do and who are being arrested and deported in a new scourge of injustice suddenly leaving their crying families behind(250 new deportees were arrested by ICE yesterday including five in this County of Florida-our neighbors). Jesus ask us to truly serve the most broken: “If I the ‘master’ and ‘teacher’ have washed your feet,you ought to wash one another’s feet, I have given you a model to follow , as I have done for you , you should also do”( John 13:15). And so we begin our lives of humble service and seeking justice for God’s people as Jesus showed us.
In the Holy Land,in Israel,at the Church of Gethsemane, located where Jesus prayed in the Mount of Olives, there is also a special Mass on Holy Thursday commemorating Jesus’agony in the Garden(Matthew 26: 36-45. That takes place after the “last supper” is completed. He has already experienced betrayal and predicts Peter’s denial. Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him and shares his heart with them. He says: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me”. He then falls face down to the ground,prostrates himself, and prays “My Father,if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will but as you will.” (Matthew 26: 38-39). We know the rest of the story. The disciples fall asleep. He is betrayed and Good Friday will soon begin. But let me lift out Jesus’ words, words that strike me most today: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”. Jesus felt totally overwhelmed. Jesus felt crippling anxiety. Jesus felt the fear and grief of “being with” death, in this case not only his death but impending suffering. And Jesus’ prayers were answered with glorious life after death, but even he was not rescued from suffering and death. Finally, I can understand because of my own grief and feelings of being overwhelmed by sorrow: Jesus faced the greatest sorrow and he can understand fully when we feel the very same way. God’s humanity enabled God to viscerally know the lot of the humanity God so lovingly created. And God’s new promise is eternal life, not now though it begins now, this moment as we believe and walk with Jesus, but forever. And so I want to be with Jesus tonight and go with him through his agony, and with my suffering neighbors- to serve as he taught us.I offer only my imperfections but looking at the disciples sleeping and denying and betraying, and turning their backs, I feel that maybe I too have a chance at really serving and loving Jesus after all.
For the first time since my beloved partner in life and ministry, Pastor Judy Beaumont began her own Easter life on January 1st I was happy for the alone-ness and silence in the house today. Sometimes I say aloud and I thought only my cats hear: “this silence is deafening! I can not bear it!” But God is hearing too, Jesus is right there with infinite understanding. So today I realized that it is in that deep and overwhelming silence that I can join myself once again to Christ and find my way back home to love and service. Amen! I am thankful for this Holy , Holy Thursday.
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP
“Our God is close to the brokenhearted;and those who are crushed in spirit God saves.” Psalm 34:19
I am indeed brokenhearted and crushed in spirit by the suffering and death of my beloved partner in life and ministry for almost thirty years, Pastor Judy Beaumont,RCWP,Co-Pastor of our Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community. I know she is experiencing a glorious Easter with Christ in the love and light of God. That brings comfort but still the feelings of hurt and let down and loss are so great. the Good Friday of suffering and death loom before us. We prayed for life until it was clear that death was preferred to living in great suffering. We had prayed for life. We eventually prayed for death as release-we got death.
I struggle with this brokenness and feeling of being crushed every day. I cry when I least expect to cry. I cry on waking and sleeping, taking a walk or trying to do the financial things she did for us, I can’t even cook eggs the way she liked them let alone a meal. Yesterday on TV there was a lot of talk about “March Madness” and making the brackets for the Basketball championships. I cried like a baby because Judy had said” I want to live ’til March Madness!” And, she didn’t even get to do that. Although she had just made it to her 80th Birthday in December, she was not even near being “old” until AML Leukemia hit her hard. She appeared many years younger than that as her vitality and energy were strong until quite a while after this initially hit. She fought hard for life. She continued to serve and love God’s most broken people until the end. And she loved her women’s basketball enough to set March Madness as a goal. Her suffering felt “unjust” and this tiny wish was not granted. And yet we both continued to believe in a God of love and justice. And we both had to face that suffering and death are not always just/fair or easy, but just inevitable. Faith or no faith, Pastor or layperson, grappling with suffering and great personal loss is a time when beliefs may be sorely challenged-and when hearts are broken and life feels crushed.
“Brokenhearted” and “crushed in spirit” are good ways to describe the mourning process for one’s beloved-partner, spouse, child, Aunt, Uncle, sister, brother,parent,friend, companion, human or animal-for one who is as dear as life and sorely missed. God is close to those of us who mourn deeply. And that is because God’s own heart has been broken. Our Lenten journey leads to the Cross. Easter will follow, but first there is the cross. God did not save Jesus from the cross, but raised him afterward. God allowed Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross-“allowed”- didn’t interfere-not because God couldn’t but because God didn’t. It seems to me that God has given us the resources to be life giving and then leaves it up to us. In our own lives we still pray for miracles, and sometimes they happen, but when they don’t God is still there-close. How God could allow the cross (the most horrific death of the day) and how God must have shared Mary’s tears and the disciple’s tears on that day. How God shared Jesus excruciating pain and suffering on that day. How God’s heart was broken in every rejection of Jesus that led up to his passion. We know that Jesus wept for Jerusalem, for God’s people, and I believe that God wept for Jerusalem, and for all of God’s beloved people everywhere who turn away or don’t “get it”, that is God’s great love, and I believe God wept when Jesus suffered and died. Even as Jill, Judy’s beloved sister, and I cried as Judy died, God was close, perhaps crying too- but taking her home where she would be free of suffering and pain. I always wondered why we called the cross Jesus’ passion until I understood that “pati” in Latin means suffering. Compassion-com-pati means “with suffering” or “co-suffering” in Latin. And sometimes we suffer for and with love so passion also has to do with love. We are asked to be people of compassion and we know that suffering and being with people who are suffering is a part of that love.
I have been sent so many loving messages of condolence that I can hardly say thank you to all who sent them. But I am thankful for the words of love and understanding. The heartfelt words of loved ones and friends,the wise words of Joan Chittister, O.S.B and Joyce Rupp (May You Find Comfort) and others are especially good. “May you believe in your ability to eventually heal from your loss,no matter how much loneliness or desolation you now experience” says Rupp. At least the depth of loneliness and desolation are universal and acknowledged. But it was in a “secular” and rather light novel that words finally got through to me. In Debbie Macomber’s “The Trouble with Angels” there is a character, Pastor Paul Morris, who experiences a crisis of faith as his heart is broken and life crushed at the suffering and loss of his beloved wife to cancer. While I have a hard time identifying with or enjoying the happily- ever- after matchmaking in Macomber’s novels I admit that “happy endings” are sometimes a relief and so I read the book. But I sort of flipped through it until Pastor Paul’s struggle hit home like a ton of bricks. His faith, despair and bitterness is spelled out in many ways. Ultimately, Pastor Paul had to assist an elderly couple, Bernard and Madge, where the wife was dying of a similar cancer to Paul’s wife. It was almost too hard for him. I will save some of the punchline in case you read it, but as Madge, a woman of strong faith, is very close to dying she tells Paul that in dying she will be welcomed even as she welcomed her adopted daughter into her home and family, and that she will be healed at last, and that Paul’s wife Barbara is healed-there is no cancer in heaven. Paul reflected that Barbara was indeed free and whole and alive and he was “bound,tied up in doubts,choking on skepticism,gagging on all the trite phrases good people of God had force-fed him.” For him faith and despair became so alike that he could no longer tell the difference. Yet the words “she is healed” brought an epiphany to him. And, in a way, to me as well.
I think also of the recent killing, random shooting by assault rifle, of seventeen high school students,teachers and staff, here in Parkland Florida by a young man with mental illness. I think of the pain of those young people and adults, and of their seventeen families ,friends and community. The coach who was killed died trying to save others as did at least one of the other students.I think of the young man who did it who wants the death penalty taken off the table. I think of the vengeful barbarism of a death penalty. I think of all those who hurt and need forgiveness and peace. I think of personal hurting and of societal hurting, I think of sin and God’s love. And I think of the movement for gun control and against gun violence that students throughout the nation are now taking leadership in birthing. Here I see life after death.
One also may be brokenhearted and crushed at the loss of a just cause. One can mourn for a lost “cause”- justice, peace,racial,class,gender equality, inclusion for all people including the angriest and the mentally ill,for the loss of that which is one’s very life and yet apparently lost. Surely, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who stood against gun violence after being shot and almost killed herself,and Jesus, yes, Jesus, felt that at times the cause for which they lived was truly lost. The lenten readings this week show the injustice of the treatment Jesus received at the hands of the religious and glimpses into how he dealt with this unjust response to his life and ministry. He did what he was compelled to do by Love-like sharing God’s love for the world;healing the man born blind on the Sabbath;healing the son of a non-Jew a ” royal official” who had faith; healing the crippled man on the Sabbath and breaking another Sabbath Law against work on the Sabbath by also instructing the man to “take up his mat and walk”;calling God his beloved Father and acknowledging that he does all by God’s power. Jesus fled to the Galilee to avoid the hatred he received in Judea but even there he was besieged by accusation and religiosity that missed the mark of Love and justice. He then went to Judea, ostensibly for the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, but actually he walked toward his final rejection and crucifixion. How hard that walk, for him for his Abba God. He could not have made that walk at all, except he knew deeply: our God is close to the broken-hearted and the crushed in spirit.
So as we walk toward those things that are most difficult for us, let us join Jesus in knowing deep in our souls: God is close to the brokenhearted.
Blessings to all who mourn, and blessings to all who live Jesus and who live justice as Jesus did. Amen.
Rev. Dr.Judy Lee, RCWP
Pastor Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community, Fort Myers, Florida