What’s So Good About Good Friday?

This is a post from last year on Good Friday. Last night,  I went to the Maundy Thursday service at my church. Again, my heart was stirred during this beautiful ritual. Today, I will attend Good Friday Service and I expect to be transformed by the message of God’s love and the meaning of this day. If you are in the Pasadena area, I invite you to attend any of the glorious Easter celebrations at All Saints Church. Or, take a look at some of the offerings on this You Tube Channel. However, you celebrate (or don’t) this weekend, know that you are beloved in the heart of God. 

I  was raised Roman Catholic, and while our family wasn’t devoutly religious, we were pretty observant. I made my First Holy Communion at age 7, my confirmation when I was 14 and we attended church on a semi-regular basis. Growing up, I also dappled in other religions, Quaker, Pentecostal and even the born-again movement. But, for me the other religions always felt like I was wearing someone else’s shoes. I kept missing the peace I felt with liturgical aspects of the Catholic faith. That’s not to say I felt like the Roman Catholic faith for me was a perfect fit either.  I married, then divorced, and as I formed my own opinions about birth control, choice and women as church leaders, I felt less and less like the “Roman Catholic shoes” were a perfect fit. It wasnt’ until I found my current church and the episcopal faith did I feel like I had found the perfect shoes to use walking in my faith.  I love the ritual, tradition and the fact that I don’t have to check my brain at the door of my episcopal church.

I also love this moment in the liturgical calendar. Holy week is meaningful to me because it makes me pause and think about what Jesus and his message was all about.  Even if I didn’t keep my Lenten discipline this year (and almost every year),  I know I am profoundly loved and God accepts my imperfect self, as God loves and accepts us all.  This was Jesus’ message, and one which was not received in his time by those who felt threatened by it, by those who feared his radical message of love and inclusion.  It is still a message which isn’t accepted by those who are fearful of what love and inclusion will do to their power.

I didn’t intend for this to be a preachy post but I have been so moved by what this day, Good Friday, means to me.  I attended my church’s Good Friday service today. I loved it. It was solemn, sad, and beautiful.  Last night, too, I attended the Maundy Thursday service. It is another one of my favorite services of the year.  It is a service which demonstrates the caring and loving example that Jesus showed his disciples. Those of us who wished to,  performed the foot washing ritual on each other.  At the conclusion of the service, the altar was ceremoniously stripped of its adornments, in preparation for the solemness of Good Friday. Today, at the Good Friday service, the altar bare and the chancel empty, the clergy wearing only their black cassocks and no other vestments, provided a powerful backdrop for the meditations on the meaning of this day. At the conclusion of today’s service I wept as the choir sang the spiritual “Were You There When They Crucified my Lord?” I was moved by the humility of my rector as he knelt with reverence at the chancel steps,  I was humbled God’s grace as I realized that Jesus’ life was meant to be the example of perfect love for the human family, and I was filled with joy and anticipation as I realized that this example of love, inclusion and justice is all I need to go out into the world and meet the challenges of life.  For me, that is what is good about Good Friday.

Sunday Offerings – Singing a New Church into Being

This morning I woke up and nearly got to spend my morning just the way I like: sleeping in, drinking coffee in bed, and surfing the internet. I say, “nearly” because as often happens with a house full of kids and scheduling glitches, at the last minute I had to cut my Internet surfing short and hurriedly dress for church. You can imagine what all that rushing around did to my state of mind before I got to church.  But, today all the excitement getting to church, was matched only by all the excitement that was happening at church.  Our church, All Saints Pasadena, didn’t just have one bishop there, there were two. In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the blessing of same-sex covenants, Gene Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire, the first openly gay bishop ordained in the Episcopal church, and Mary Glaspool, one of the female bishops in the Los Angeles Episcopal diocese, who just happens to be a lesbian, celebrated with us.

Bishop Gene gave a wonderful sermon, based on today’s Gospel, Mark 1:21-28.  In his sermon Gene stated how experiencing the love of God through Jesus is like exorcising all those unclean spirits which Jesus cast out in the Gospel lesson. I thought how ironic that this reference of “unclean” probably has been used to by some Christians against LGBT brothers and sisters, but here was Gene referring to the “unclean spirits” as those spirits in all of us which keep us from thinking we are not pretty enough, not wealthy enough, not smart enough, and not worthy to experience God’s love. It was a powerful message indeed. But, that was not moved me the most, it was the entrance hymn,  “Sing a New Church.” The refrain of the hymn goes:

Let us bring the gifts that differ and in splendid, varied ways, 

Sing a new church into being, One in faith and love and praise.

- Words: Dolores Dulner, OSB (1991)

As I sang this hymn  I was so moved thinking about the wonderful ministry of Gene and Mary. I thought about how the Church has so many people in it, people of varying color, gender, sexuality–all splendid gifts from God. I thought about All Saints and its bold undertaking 20 years ago, daring to bless the covenant of Phil Straw and Mark Besson. I was so happy to be a part of my faith community, so proud to be a part of today’s celebration, and thrilled to be singing a new church into being, with all my brothers and sisters.

Sunday Offerings – All Saints Sunday

Today at church we celebrated All Saints Day, honoring all those connected to our church family who have died since November 1, 2010. This service is usually very solemn and somber. The music offerred at this service is usually very moving and emotional. Today was no different. The music, traditionally a requiem was called Lux aeterna by Morten Lauridsen, and performed by a chamber orchestra and our church’s choir. It was stunning. But, this requiem, or mass for the dead, while emotional, was not somber. Rather, the music was uplifting. So too, was the sermon. Consequently, while this day marks the death of loved ones, and my grandmother’s name was among the many listed in the litrugy, I did not feel sad during the service. Our rector’s sermon, entitled, “Life is Changed, Not Ended,” spoke about giving your grief to God, transforming it to love and empowering change in the world. Actually, that’s probably not a fair summary of the many nuggets of truth from his sermon. Here’s a link to this sermon on All Saints Sunday, so you can hear it for yourself.

And here’s a bit of the beautiful music from today’s service.

Lux aeterna

A Birthday, a Graduation and an Anniversary*

We all went to church today and celebrated another special holiday in the church calendar.  It was Pentecost, the birthday of the Christian church.  So, in addition to our usual worship service, where the kids often assist as acolytes and I assist giving communion, the service had a festive flair.  There were flags during the procession, incense, and  birthday cake and a jazz trio on the lawn after the service.  Even the altar looked festive because it was  adorned in the color for Pentacost, which also happens to be my favorite color–red. Underneath our albs many of us wore red, including me.

Red shoes

With me and the older kids participating in the service, Juan and Diego sat by themselves in the pew.  Juan kept Diego entertained by letting Diego draw on  on pew cards. Diego drew the same thing he always draws:

A Christmas scene

When Juan asked him why he always draws a Christmas scene, Diego said he would draw something else. And he drew this:

Easter scene drawn by Diego

I guess he doesn’t know how to draw a Pentacost scene.

Sigh.

After church we had another celebration to attend, graduation.  Diego graduated in cub scouts today.  He graduated from a Tiger cub to a Wolf cub.  The ceremony is called “bridging” and marked by the boys from his pack crossing over a bridge. We took a picnic lunch to a local park and celebrated with the other families. How quckly time flies. I remember when we were at the same park watching Nico bridge as a cub scout. Now Nico is  a boy scout and working his way up in rank.

Sigh.

Diego goes from a Tiger cub to Wolf, and trades his orange scarf for a yellow one.

After all that you think we’d be done with our celebrating. But wait, there’s more. We all went out to dinner to celebrate my parents 50th wedding  anniversary.  Through their  50 years together my parents have managed to raise four kids, have 9 grandchildren and share some wonderful, and not so wonderful experiences. Through it all they have stayed comitted to each other and our family   We like to joke that my we don’t know how my mom managed to do it.  As if to prove our point, my dad told us his own joke tonight.  He said that my mom saw him crying on their anniversary. When my mom asked my dad why he was crying, he told her that  50 years ago my grandfather caught my dad and mom together and, with his shotgun aimed at my dad,  my grandfather asked him to either marry my mom or go to jail. My dad jokingly recounted how he chose to marry my mom.  Again, my mom asked him, why he was crying. My dad explained,  he was crying because he realized that if had chosen jail, he would be a free man now.

Sigh.

My parents on our recent trip to New York

*This post was inspired by the post, Blessings, Tonys and Zombies, in Accidental Stepmom. Check her out.

Sunday Offerings – The Body/Mind/Spirit Connection

Yesterday I went on a women’s retreat put on by the Women’s Community at my church.  I was a little hesitant about going because the last time I went to an all women’s retreat the retreat was organized by a very bible based church,
I was in my 20’s and the women who attended were nearly all  (gasp) women in their 50’s.  Yesterday’s retreat was very different.  The average age of the women was still probably 50+ but somehow now that I am closer to the average age, that wasn’t such a big deal. The bigger difference was the theme and feel of the retreat–no bible thumping, hallelujah-shouting, blue-haired women here. The theme of the retreat centered on the body-mind-spirit connection, and the ritual we all use in getting our bodies in a place to open our minds, and our spirits.

Zelda, a female Episcopalian priest from my church,  led the retreat.  She  helped to show us how some of our daily rituals open our minds and spirit. Something as ordinary like stretching in the morning, or like me, washing my face at night. As I listened to the other women offer examples of daily ritual I realized that I could use some more ritual in my life, something other than the washing-my-face-at-night-before-I-go-crashing-into-bed-and-falling-asleep-as-I-try-to-get-through-my-nightly-prayers. All, too often I don’t even get to the nightly reflection part because I am so tired at that point all I want to do is lay down and SLEEP!

One of the ways we were supposed to use our body’s on yesterday’s retreat was to walk around this amazing retreat center in the San Gabriel mountains very close to my house. Yesterday’s springtime temperatures and clear skies made a glorious day to be walking about the mountains.

Zelda had set up the walking labyrinth, and she set up a trail with small stations along the way.  We were asked to walk the labyrinth or walk along the trail (the body connection).

The labyrinth set up in the shade of the trees.

A steep part of the spirituality trail.

Along the trail Zelda set up “sacred stations,” which were meant to be places where you could stop and wrap yourself in a prayer shawl and meditate on the writings that were placed at each station, or meditate on some of the questions we were given at the start of the retreat, then we were asked to write or draw our thoughts in a journal, (the mind connection).

One of the sacred stations along the spirituality trail

At the end of the two-hour walking and journaling period, we returned for lunch and, if we wanted, we shared our thoughts, and had communion, (the spirit connection). It was a transformative day.

I came away with many thoughts and revelations but one of my thoughts was that I should really practice this more often.  I need more ritual in my life so that I can get to the mind/body/spirit connection. And, as Zelda said, if you say it aloud for the universe to hear then it often works. So, I’m saying it out load to the blogosphere–“I am going to get up a half hour earlier to walk and meditate and journal.” This is huge, because as my husband Juan says, my daily ritual is trying to sleep in as long as possible before I have to start my day. Please pray for me.