Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Saturday

Ten years ago my mother was laid to rest on Holy Saturday.   My family is Roman Catholic and I had left in 1960 to become an Episcopalian after a friend took me to the cathedral in Boston and I fell in love with the liturgy.  Aside from loosing our mother, my whole family was upset at the attitude of the priest who did her service.  We understood that there couldn't be a Eucharist and we understood that she couldn't have been buried on Thursday or Friday (she died early in the week) but what we couldn't understand is that the life a woman who faithfully went to church every week for decades wasn't even mentioned in the homily.  I know he was busy.  Boy do I know, but taking a few minutes to add a few personal touches to a canned homily is not that hard. We were not asked what readings we would like.  We were not asked a single question about her.  I don't think he even visited her in the hospital her last two weeks.  (She had a stroke after surgery and never regained consciousness.)  Fortunately she was in a hospice bed in the hospital and the hospital chaplain did visit.  All of my brothers and sisters (there are seven of us) got to say their good byes and one of my brothers was with her at the end.

For the first five years after her death I could barely get through Holy Saturday.  Now this day is a very sacred and holy time for me.  I say the liturgy of the day in her honor.  What her burial service taught me is how great the pastoral needs of people are when a loved one dies and how much a careless attitude hurts and lasts.  

That Joseph of Arimathea and maybe Nicodemus and certainly Mary Magdalene and the other Mary took gentle care of that bruised and wounded body, is a reminder to me to take gentle care of people who are grieving after a death.  St. John's gospel tells us that Mary the mother of Jesus was given into the care of the Beloved Disciple, so some took care of the body and some took care of the grieving.  I have no fear of dead bodies.  Long ago when I was a hospital health physicist I had to occasionally visit the morgue and so lost my fear or repulsion.  That really helped during my internship as a hospital chaplain.  It is amazing how our life experiences all fit together to help us do what we are called to do now in our lives.  Last year there were ten funerals or burials at our small congregation.  No weddings and only two baptisms and those were grandchildren who lived away so will not be regular members.  I tell people I greatly prefer to do a funeral than a wedding.  I do love baptisms though.  It's a reminder that as we die with Christ we also rise with him.

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