Tag Archives: Death

Doctors & Dying: Caring for Caretakers

In the tug of prolonged strain, physicians, like their patients, are vulnerable. Some corners of the United States remain relatively quiet and unaffected by outbreaks of the coronavirus, Covid-19. In these areas, extra sanitizer, virtual appointments, and doctors’ office face coverings are the cue that something is happening elsewhere. But in other regions, despite the summer months, health care systems are overwhelmed; at the time of writing, Texas, Arizona, and Florida are being pummeled by significant spikes. For some cities, hospitalists have seen a steady stream of critical patients for months.

For doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, anesthesiologists – anyone who spends hours in personal protective gear, anyone who spends months caring for critical and dying patients – several dynamics are changing the way in which they encounter death. This is significant for clergy caring for burned-out parishioners; it is significant for laypeople who approach their career in medicine as a vocation; and it is significant for hospice chaplains and workers, and for hospital chaplains.

One journalist, writing on the challenges of administering last rites during a pandemic, observed:

“The Coronavirus has led the United States to the valley of the shadow of death. In just three months, a microscopic particle has laid bare human mortality. The entire nation has worked to avoid death, shutting down cities, masking faces in the streets, and isolating the dying from their loved ones in their final hours. And yet, more than 100,000 people have died, and often, died alone.

Many rituals, a guide through life’s most sacred moments, have been impossible. Children said final goodbyes to dying parents through windows or on FaceTime, if they bid farewell at all. Only rarely have religious leaders been allowed into hospitals and nursing homes. Families attend funerals on Zoom.

The country is facing a deeply personal crisis of spirit, not only of health or economics. A virus has forced a reckoning with the most intimate questions we have, questions not only about how we live, but also about how we die. About what we can control, and what we cannot. About how to name human dignity, despair and hope. And especially about how to make meaning of our final hours on this earth.

‘This major disaster is going to change our relationship to death; I’m not exactly sure how, but I am certain it will,’ Shannon Lee Dawdy, professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago, said. A century ago, priests were ‘answering sick calls night and day,’ one Catholic newspaper reported at the time. Now nurses and doctors, not spiritual leaders or families, are most likely to be death’s witnesses.”

In cities like Boston, priests occasionally have been allowed special clearance to administer last rites in personal protective equipment. During the early coronavirus outbreak in Italy, priests were given some freedom within pandemic protocol to visit the dying; some who offered spiritual care to coronavirus victims themselves died of it.

Meanwhile, American hospital chaplains accustomed to offering comfort through personal presence have struggled to serve patients and family members through the distance of a device screen. Last spring, many hospitals put restrictions on chaplain presence due to shortage of personal protection equipment. Other chaplains are present in hospitals and able to respond to a request for their presence if they don protective gear and follow protocol. Distanced or present in mask and scrubs, chaplains are offering support not only to patients and family members but to exhausted health care workers. One journalist writing on the changes in hospital chaplaincy noted:

“The infectious nature of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, has changed everyone’s jobs in healthcare, including chaplains. The obvious shift is the inability to physically visit patients in hospitals to be a resource to them and their families.

The subtler changes are the extent of tending to those who tend to the ill. It’s watching out for what [chaplain David] Carl describes as ‘compassion fatigue and burnout’ among healthcare workers. Because nothing is routine now in healthcare.”

One chaplain noted how fatalities took a toll on New York City doctors during the tragic spike in the city: “How do I help a nurse who is new to nursing and has walked into all this death and it’s nothing that she had ever imagined? …This is very hard because this is personal. No patient is a number. And this is a very good hospital. Our patients usually live. And to have so many of our patients not making it — it’s even hard on the seasoned doctors.”

Even experienced chaplains, who have developed routines and habitual pressure valves to let off steam from regular engagement with grief, aren’t immune from the additional strain of providing care during a pandemic. As one journalist observes, “For most hospital workers, as for so many others around the country and the world, the last couple of months have been something like a prolonged trauma. ‘We’re all living right on the cusp, in this buzzing, anxious place’ [says Reverend Kate Perry]. She’s seen hospital workers who are typically reserved, now living on the edge of panic. ‘Every patient, family, and staff is all living with the same emotions,’ she says. ‘They feel anxious and helpless and this deep sadness. And then there’s this anger.'”

Usually, hospice workers provide robust, sensitive end-of-life care for dying people, from the elderly to cancer patients to a variety of patients; occasionally, patients rally and make a partial recovery, even able to leave hospice care. Whatever the outcome, hospice caregivers and facilities excel in quietly tending to the physical needs of the dying and the emotional needs of their family members, shepherding them through the process of dying, death, and loss, answering mundane questions, being present in grief.

But with Covid-19 patients, isolation is often required to contain further spread. For some patients, their last moment to speak is right before they are sedated and placed on a ventilator, so the good-bye may come weeks before the moment of possible death. Not only that, often critical Covid patients take a quick turn for the worse, so that even if one family member is allowed to come to the hospital, they may or may not make it in time. The loss of a typical progression of dying, the loss of hospice or chaplain bedside presence, these are also fatalities of this disease. Not only are family members unmoored and chaplains frustrated at a distance, but in strained, crowded Covid units, at times doctors find themselves attempting to calm patients terrified of being intubated and dying; and as chaplains noted above, even seasoned hospitalists have been caught off guard by the sheer number of fatalities during the worst spikes.

Just like testing and treatment protocol are becoming more familiar and hopefully more efficient, as time progresses, chaplains and hospice workers will find new means of offering care to the dying. Last spring, hospice workers creatively tackled obstacles to meaningful connection in a variety of ways. Hopefully, curves will flatten in Miami, in Houston, in Tucson, relieving pressure on overtaxed hospitals and exhausted doctors; hopefully, spikes will be prevented in other states on the edge of exponential growth.

In the meantime, health care workers on the front lines of Covid outbreaks face unprecedented losses, often without the physical presence of chaplains or hospice workers to bear the brunt of witnessing death. What might be some starting places for clergy and chaplains spiritually caring for medical caretakers?

Hospice resources are extremely valuable for everyone – pastors, laypeople, and those working in medicine. If exhausted doctors are feeling the absence of hospice workers, there are still bite-sized, helpful hospice resources that can help provide a new lens with which to approach dying patients – even in unbelievably hectic times. For example, often in-home hospice nurses have short pamphlets they give to family members. While medical professionals are familiar with the basic biology of the dying process, hospice resources also frame the process of letting go and grieving. For instance, while this printable resource is primarily for families of terminally ill people, a portion of the caregivers section is relevant to frustrated specialists encountering critical patients suffering from a little-understood disease, Covid-19, still being researched: “Caregivers are often overwhelmed by the intensity and mixture of emotions they feel. These may include: Fear that you do not know the right thing to do and that you are failing as a caregiver mixed with moments of realization that you are doing the best you can and amazement that you can do as much as you are doing.” These kinds of insights can help reinforce the reality that family caregivers and doctors alike sometimes experience very similar dynamics. In other words: this response is not unusual; it is common; you are not alone. In The Family Handbook of Hospice Care, the physical toll of grief is named: “Grief can take a toll on you physically. You may lose interest or gain interest in food. You may lose weight. You may have intense dreams or disturbing sleep patterns—if you can sleep at all. You may be extremely restless, unable to concentrate or relax. Furthermore, grief can hurt: You might feel a knot in your stomach, a tightness in your throat, or a heaviness in your chest. Often grief requires more energy than you would need to chop wood. You may require lots of rest to maintain your health.” In areas hit by a surge of infections, many ICU nurses and specialists are simply – grieving; or, they would be if they had the energy to do so. Grief can be delayed, but it will come out in some form or another eventually.

Be ready for both the curve and the flattening. In the middle of a huge spike of positive cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities, few ICU nurses will have time or energy to read up on a theology of death and dying, or the problem of theodicy – how suffering can exist if there is an all-powerful, all-good God. During a crisis, there’s barely energy left over just to do laundry. The waxing and waning of relative normalcy vs an explosion of emergency can also be captured in Ignatius’ approach to seasons of life as “consolation and desolation.” If you’re a chaplain or physician in the midst of relative normalcy (or “consolation”), now is a moment to explore resources and shore up mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Now is the time to call up a pastor or professor friend and talk through hard questions; now is the time to read God on Mute. However, for doctors numb with exhaustion, forcing themselves through rote motion each day (“desolation”), you probably simply need to eat, sleep, sweat, and laugh daily. Though Ignatius was addressing Christians, some of his advice would be picked up later by recovery groups as well: in a time of desolation, followers of Christ should practice the habit of recalling God’s faithfulness in prior times of desolation; resist the temptation to see suffering as pointless; resist desolation through meditation and prayer; avoid making big decisions, “because desolation is the time of the lie—it’s not the time for sober thinking. That is, in our disheartened state, we’re more prone to be deceived”; pay attention to the spiritual insights found during desolation; and confidently look for the quick return of a season of consolation.” It can be challenging to see the possibility of a season different from whatever you’re in now; but even identifying these rhythms can encourage the exhausted or motivate the distracted.

Develop a Personal Ritual; Don’t Feel Ashamed of PTSD

Rituals help order chaos; they are, as someone once described, a kind of “scaffolding” exterior to our own emotions. Rituals also pause activity out of deference to something bigger. In the absence of chaplains, medical workers of any or no faith may find a swift motion, gesture, or pause helpful in marking the passing of a patient. A few seconds holding their hand, silently offering a quick thanks for their life, or even folding their blanket before it is taken to laundry can help acknowledge loss of life before moving on to the next pressing need.

After several successive losses in my own life, I had simple black silicone bands debossed subtly with the words I’m Grieving. On especially hard days, I wore one. The simple visual cue often gave family members quick insight into a mood, and sometimes it opened up meaningful conversations with strangers. I mailed some to others going through season of grief. Decades after the common use of black mourning armbands to signal grieving in public, the simple wristbands were a good modern substitute. In times of grief and loss, tangible items are valuable in marking things that are difficult to verbalize and express.

Tangible touchstones are also helpful for anyone with PTSD. Doctors, clergy, military medics, chaplains, nurses – people in all these professions sometimes come away with post-traumatic stress. Panic attacks, flashbacks, insomnia, obsessive habits – none of these experiences are shameful; none of them indicate a lack of faith or a lack of expertise or a lack of professionalism. Certainly, none of these experiences or others indicate a lack of strength. They simply mean we are all finite, neurological creatures.

It seems likely that we have quite a ways to go in order to flatten curves, wait for vaccine production, understand the long-term health impact of this virus, and discover whether or not yearly vaccines, as with influenza, are necessary. Would you describe your days as being in a time of consolation or a time of desolation? Are you finding a need for ritual – for scaffolding outside of yourself? Take it gently. Remember – for now is not forever. And recall the words on how, “even in the darkest places, joy and goodness can be found” from International Justice Mission founder Gary Haugen: “Joy is the oxygen…”


Physicians Start Hotline for Doctors Struggling with Mental Health

Physician Support Line: For Doctors Navigating Covid-19

A Caregiver’s Guide to the Dying Process: The Hospice Foundation of America

When Death Enters Your Life: A Grief Pamphlet for People in Prisons or Jails

Spanish Language Resources: from the Hospice Foundation of America

For American Healthcare Workers Coping with Pandemic Stress: from the CDC

For Emergency Responders Coping with Pandemic Stress: from the CDC

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Remembering Church History: Pastoral Care during Outbreaks

Today’s piece is adapted from “Pastoral Care and Contagion” which originally appeared on Wesleyan Accent in 2014, when Ebola was wreaking havoc. It should not perhaps come as a surprise that while the disease may differ, the topic re-emerges in bleak relevance every few years. Certainly, it may seem counter-intuitive to consider church history in any discussion of outbreak, pandemic, or plague; we live in an era of hazmat suits, microbiology, and gallons of gelatinous hand sanitizer. But while our approach to disease containment and pathology is far different than you would find in rural Germany in the 1500’s – while we know so much more about the value of quarantine or the spread of disease – still, there is profound if sad wisdom and perspective in reflecting on the posture of faith communities in our past. These ancient faith communities encountered epidemics without access to antibiotics, antivirals, IV bags, or basic sanitation. The wisdom echoing through church history like a wail in the catacombs remains relevant partly because areas of the world still lack access to medical supplies, physicians, or hospitals; pastoral care during outbreaks is a quite urgent topic for many Christians. It is also instructive to note the panic that grips even people who do have access to health care best practices, because in the age of globalization, supply chains are vulnerable. Independent of actual risk, fear itself can cause markets to yo-yo or consumer hoarding to worsen shortages. Even if people are accustomed to relative health and ease – or especially if they are – it is impossible to insulate any life from certain realities: illness, vulnerability, lack of control, mortality. Pastoral care during outbreaks is in part the quiet calming of deep existential fears usually ignored, avoided, or drowned out by many people in the Western world.

Even though we are equipped to know more about disease outbreaks faster than ever before, human nature hasn’t changed: the response is still fear, even if the risk is much lower than it would’ve been a few centuries ago, even if fatality rates, while tragic, are relatively low. So in addition to hanging signs reminding guests to wash their hands, in addition to taking sensible precautions and exercising common sense and good cheer, we can outfit ourselves with wisdom from church history. Perspective is never so valuable as in a time of panic, warranted or unwarranted or somewhere in between. So let’s inoculate ourselves against denial, on one hand, and fear, on the other, with a visit to the Book of Common Prayer and a cantankerous German monk, Martin Luther.Elizabeth Glass Turner, Managing Editor

Royal 6.E.vi, f. 301 detail

In The Proposed Book of Common Prayer of 1689, under the blunt heading, “In the time of any common Plague or Sickness,” you can read this prayer: “O ALMIGHTY God, who in thy wrath did send a plague upon thine own people in the wilderness, for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron; and also, in the time of king David, didst slay with the plague of Pestilence threescore and ten thousand, and yet remembering thy mercy didst save the rest; Have pity upon us miserable sinners, who now are visited with great sickness and mortality; that like as thou didst then accept of an atonement, and didst command the destroying Angel to cease from punishing, so it may now please thee to withdraw from us, who humbly acknowledge our sins and truly repent us of them, this plague and grievous sickness; that being delivered we may glorify thy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

In 2014 the World Health Organization released a manual providing guidelines that aim to maintain cultural respect and religious reverence for the safe burial of Ebola victims, since a full 20 percent of transmissions occured in the burial process. Officials consulted with Muslim and Christian leaders to explore ways that burials could maintain the rites of religious faith while avoiding the washing of a body or the sharing of a loved one’s possessions that might be contaminated with the virus.

Despite my excellent undergraduate education preparing me for Christian ministry, despite  my thoroughly-enjoyed seminary training, I don’t remember any discussions on how to provide pastoral care during outbreaks or what to preach during the plague. North America, take note: whatever your thoughts on travel regulations and disease transmission, Ebola and health care, pastors and laypeople everywhere have remembered something anew.

You are not immune.

And currently our sisters and brothers in several African nations (please brush up on your geography if you think Ebola has gripped the entire continent) are wrestling with very pragmatic issues of Christian love, urgent medical need and health and safety.

Re-read the heading of the above prayer: “In the time of any common Plague or Sickness.” What short memories we have. Plague and sickness, very present reminders of mortality abounded not long ago in our own nation. We’re a century away from the Spanish Influenza, antibiotics have been utilized for a few short decades and immunizations weren’t available when my Grandmother was a child. In a very little time, we have become shocked by cancer, appalled by heart attacks, distressed by dementia. And rightly so: they are horrible evils.

But we’ve become surprised by our own mortality.

“Have pity upon us miserable sinners, who now are visited with great sickness and mortality…”

How deeply does our surprise run? Search “priest” and “plague” on the internet and you’ll find plenty of references – to video games, some of which feature “plague priests” and “plague monks.” But as our featured image shows, the relationship between priests and plagues was something that used to be commonplace.

Hopefully, the [2014 Ebola] contagion is winding down; hopefully, the outbreak will continue to abate, running itself out in containment. Hopefully, it will no longer spread to other continents – this time, anyway.

Of all people, though, Christians must be conversant in the language of mortality, fluent in the evils of death and the beauty of resurrection, articulate in tragedy and triumph. What else is the rhythm of the church year for, but to practice us in the art of living the pattern of Kingdom life, of Christ-life, of birth, death, and resurrection? We must talk of these things if we have any hope of acting on them, putting hands to ideas. We must all find our inner Mother Teresa and touch the dying – even if you choose to wear three layers of gloves.

And in a moment of strangeness and perplexity, we do actually have some resources available for those who want wisdom in an outbreak, if you’re interested in the writings of one church reformer, Martin Luther. Yes, you may picture him as the rotund, angry reformer nailing his theses to a wooden door. But in the early 1500’s it wasn’t just outrage at the Roman Catholic Church that was sweeping Europe: it was the plague. So perhaps these principles will be helpful.

Luther wrote “to the Reverend Doctor Johann Hess, pastor at Breslau, and to his fellow-servants of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” on the very interestingly titled subject, “whether one may flee from a deadly plague.”

In other words, is it alright, as a Christian, to leave an area where people may need your help?

And he answers very pastorally, if bluntly – it depends. “Since it is generally true of Christians that few are strong and many are weak, one simply cannot place the same burden upon everyone,” explaining in rather kinder terms, “it takes more than a milk faith to await a death before which most of the saints themselves have been and still are in dread.”

But Luther puts a different burden on those in leadership in both the church and the state. About clergy, he advises:

“Those who are engaged in a spiritual ministry such as preachers and pastors must likewise remain steadfast before the peril of death. For when people are dying, they most need a spiritual ministry which strengthens and comforts their consciences by word and sacrament and in faith overcomes death. However, where enough preachers are available in one locality and they agree to encourage the other clergy to leave in order not to expose themselves needlessly to danger, I do not consider such conduct sinful because spiritual services are provided for and because they would have been ready and willing to stay if it had been necessary.”

Laypeople are not neglected in the discussion, however. “In the case of children who are orphaned, guardians or close friends are under obligation either to stay with them or to arrange diligently for other nursing care for their sick friends. Yes, no one should dare leave his neighbor unless there are others who will take care of the sick in their stead and nurse them.” This is tempered when he continues that if there is enough nursing available, believers have an “equal choice either to flee or to remain.”

Of course, he is not speaking here of mandated quarantine or other 21st-century realities (though quarantine is nothing new: the city of Venice used an island as a quarantine location when it faced the plague several centuries ago). The pastoral response in current contexts must also include care for others by not exposing them frivolously or lightly to that with which one may be infected.

But in a triage situation, many of the principles are still relevant: because before the CDC arrives, or before the world takes note but after your local doctors and nurses have fallen ill with the disease themselves, then what?

First, whether you stay or go, Luther would have you pray and commend yourself to God: “if he feels bound to remain where death rages in order to serve his neighbor, let him commend himself to God and say, ‘Lord, I am in they hands; thou hast kept me here; they will be done.’ If a man is free, however, and can escape, let him commend himself and say, ‘Lord God, I am weak and fearful. Therefore I am running away from evil and am doing what I can to protect myself against it.'”

This pastoral word essentially encourages believers – whether on the front lines or seeking safety – to acknowledge first and foremost that we are submitted to things beyond our control, and that we have committed our spirits to the Lord, aware of our own frailty and mortality. Pastoral care during outbreak begins with acknowledging what is in our control and what is out of our control.

Second, he gives a word of encouragement to those facing graphic horrors of contagious illness. “When anyone is overcome by horror and repugnance in the presence of a sick person he should take courage and strength in the firm assurance that it is the devil who stirs up such fear and loathing in his heart…[he] also takes delight in making us deathly afraid, worried, and apprehensive so that we should regard dying as horrible and have no rest or peace, [making] us forget and lose Christ…”

How comfortable are you around sick people? Certainly, take sensible precautions: wash your hands, cough into your elbow, take vitamins. But can you bear to be around those who are gravely ill? Are you prepared to walk through the valley of the shadow of death with them so that they are not alone? Does your faith give you the strength to sit next to the person receiving chemo? During a time of spreading disease, everyone is forced to confront dynamics that occur every day for people with multiple sclerosis or cancer or recovering from injuries sustained in warfare or car accidents. The point is sharply made when Luther writes, “this I well know, that if it were Christ or his mother who were laid low by illness, everybody would be so solicitous and would gladly become a servant or helper.”

And about burials – which the World Health Organization would appreciate – Luther simply says, “I leave it to the doctors of medicine and others with greater experience than mine in such matters to decide whether it is dangerous to maintain cemeteries within the city limits,” though he urges caution and suggests burial out of town.

So: hear sermons from the Word on how to live and how to die (Luther recommends – though currently in winter 2020, some congregations in other countries are restricted from gathering, due to public gathering limitations to curb disease spread); prepare for death in time to confess and take the sacrament, in time for reconciling with others (he further recommends); and if you want a chaplain or pastor at the time of your death, call them while you’re still in your right mind (he wasn’t a man short on words).

Are you comfortable with mortality? Are you ready to be around the dying?

It’s worth thinking about. It doesn’t matter if one pandemic scare fades away, allowing us to be (relatively) at peace again; whether or not there is emergent disease risk, we all have to grapple with mortality, limitations, and ill people in our communities who need our presence. We all have to reconcile ourselves to the fragility of life. Sometimes it’s just on the news more than usual.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Terrible Precipice of Knowing: Black Holes, Enlightenment, and the Divine

There is a moment you stand on the brink, or the brink stands on you. The inexorable draw pulls you in, like gravity, like the current; at the moment you must fight to get away or be drawn in forever, you are the most tempted to pause with quickened breath as you weigh whether the knowledge of what lies on the other side is worth the possibility of your own extinction – before you can say what it is you’ve seen.

“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.”

In the quest to see the truth, what if you are blinded? Is a blind woman happy who has lost her sight in order to bear witness to the Beatific vision? Would terrorist Saul have chosen blindness and disorientation to see Christ, or did Christ need to blind Saul temporarily so that he would perceive properly?

Today is an odd moment in human history; scientists have collaborated across continents, in multiple time zones, to set up equipment on the world’s mountains so that humanity can use plastic, metal, and glass tools that fit in your pocket or sit on your desk to communicate with each other almost instantaneously and see images of a black hole. Computing isn’t identical to information and information isn’t identical to knowledge, but today you can pull out a piece of equipment, use a high-powered search engine, type the words, “black hole photo,” and see the results of decades of hard work. Just 150 years ago people learned of the death of their loved one in the U.S. Civil War by checking the newspaper or receiving a letter from the dead person’s friend. It could take weeks, months. Now a mystery in our galaxy is viewable on the rechargeable machine in your pocket.

Black holes are mesmerizing, terrifying, and little understood. Using math, calculations, formulas, equations, scientists guess. What appears to be true is that, in a way, light itself can be sucked down the drain and condensed into a tiny, heavy ball with extraordinary gravitational pull. (Note: this is an inaccurate description of a complex reality by someone who is not a scientist.) What science fiction writers like to play with is the moment – the event horizon – in which light or matter (or a fictional character) can no longer escape the gravitational pull.

You still have time you still have time you still have time it’s too late.

Who can rescue you from knowledge that will be your undoing? No rescue craft can hover at the event horizon, lowering a rope to you.

How can knowledge burn but set you free? There is a knowing that singes you to breaking point, then propels you forward.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Light, we are told, cannot escape the power of a black hole.

Perhaps not.

Or at least, perhaps not for a long, long time, until that condensed matter explodes outward – propelling, igniting, cascading.

Jesus swallowed up the darkness that appeared to swallow him. The darkness came close; the darkness thought that Jesus Christ stood on the event horizon, and fell in.

On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken. – Isaiah 25:7-8

What is Holy Week about? It is about Jesus letting himself be drawn into a black hole. It is about the sky going dark, the earth shaking. It is about hours of eerie silence – hours and hours. It is about hope vanishing in the blink of an eye.

It is about a black hole quivering. It is about a black hole beginning to get smaller. It is about the Light of the World swallowing the heavy darkness with such inescapable draw that the darkness cannot escape. It is about the Light of the World entering a hole of black darkness and absorbing it from the inside.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Standing on the brink, looking into the abyss, Judas Iscariot and Pontius Pilate stood.

The inexorable draw pulls you in, like gravity, like the current; at the moment you must fight to get away or be drawn in forever, you are the most tempted to pause with quickened breath as you weigh whether the knowledge of what lies on the other side is worth the possibility of your own extinction – before you can say what it is you’ve seen.

What does it feel like to betray the Light? Judas held that knowledge. So too did Pilate. And it swallowed them whole as they were consumed by the ever-hungry darkness.

Standing on the brink, looking into the abyss, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, Mary Magdalene, and other women stood, peering into an open, empty, echoing tomb. Comprehension failed them. Lightning-colored beings shouted nearby from an eternity away. Fight or flight kicked in. Hope is deadly, and they did not want to die.

At the moment you must fight to get away or be drawn in forever, you are the most tempted to pause with quickened breath as you weigh whether the knowledge of what lies on the other side is worth the possibility of your own extinction.

Had Light escaped the darkness?

What does it feel like to witness the Light? Mary and Joanna held that knowledge. So too did Magdalene. And it swallowed them whole as they were consumed by the ever-lifegiving Light.

It is not the brink that is the problem; it is not the cliff’s edge, the event horizon; it’s whether you’re jumping into darkness or into Light. Holy Week brings us to the brink, reminds us of what it feels like to peer over the edge into humanity’s bent toward self-destruction, pushes us toward letting go of all safety railings as we free-fall into the Light of the World.

Featured image courtesy Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration/National Science Foundation.

Jeff Rudy ~ Third Day Dimension

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. – I Corinthians 15:12-20

My friend Kevin is a professor of New Testament at my alma mater. He told me about the time several years ago when his father died. He recalled vividly people coming up to him to tell him not to cry, not to grieve because, “That’s not really your father. That’s just a shell.” They were well-intended words, but it was frustrating for Kevin and it came to the point he challenged their words in a most poignant way when he said in reply, “What do you mean, that’s not my father? Those are the hands that cared for me. Those are the arms that took me up and hugged me. Those are the lips that spoke to me; the eyes that searched for me; the chest on which I fell asleep, knowing I was safe in his care. Everything I have ever known of my father was through this body. Don’t tell me that’s not him.”

Now what I’m about to say might sound a little jarring at first, but hear this, and hear me out:

Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead just so you could go to heaven when you die.

That’s not the end game. The goal is something greater than just going to heaven when you die. Because if it was just about that, then what the ancient pagans and Gnostics believed about the body must be true – that our bodies are prisons, that they are merely shells for some sort of immaterial soul within that ultimately longs to be free. To be clear, that sort of picture can be a picture of salvation and of hope, but it is not the picture of Christian salvation and hope that we have in the New Testament. The picture of salvation and hope in the New Testament is very clearly based on an event that took place 2,000 years ago – the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth who had been crucified and died, was buried, and on the third day rose again.

In both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, there are two statements about the resurrection – (1) that Jesus was resurrected on the third day; and (2) the belief “in the resurrection of the body” or “resurrection of the dead” which is about the resurrection that we still await – what we call the “general resurrection.” These doctrines are not euphemisms or merely metaphors to talk about an ethereal reality or our need to “escape” our earthly tents, so to speak. No, Jesus’ body departed the tomb with its scars, though they had healed, and apparently with some new abilities that they had not yet seen. (More on that in a moment.)

In this section of 1 Corinthians, Paul is in the midst of his theological discourse about the content of Christian hope. He’s already established that there are over 500 eyewitnesses to Jesus’ bodily resurrection (verses 1-11). And he now turns to address what appears to be a faction of the Corinthians who weren’t necessarily denying that Jesus was raised (though some were perhaps teaching that), but who were at least denying that a future resurrection was still in store for the people of God.

Most of the world in the first century didn’t believe in an eternity that was based upon the idea of the resurrection of the body. By the time Jesus was around, there was a sect within Judaism called the Sadducees who did not believe in a future resurrection. It was the Pharisees who believed that the resurrection would one day happen as the final reckoning of God’s judgment, when God would right the wrongs and vindicate the faithful by raising them from the dead to enjoy eternity in the presence of God. But the Sadducees and others like them focused their message of salvation in the “now,” which is one reason why the Sadducees frequently are seen in the Gospels in cahoots with the powers that be…to get as much power and prestige in this life as possible.

However, the teaching of the Pharisees and most other Jews was that the resurrection of the dead would mark the final day of God’s judgment: the picture of hope for God’s faithful. It’s what Jesus held to, what Paul held to, what Jesus’ friends and followers believed as well. In John 11, right before Jesus raised Lazarus, he told Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” She replied, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” And what Jesus did next for Martha, Mary and all of Lazarus’ friends was to give them a glimpse of that in resuscitating Lazarus. I say “resuscitate” rather than “resurrect” because Lazarus was raised by Jesus but would one day die again. However, the resurrection would be to life for eternity. And here, my friends, is where the resurrection of Jesus was so surprising: not because they didn’t believe it wouldn’t one day happen, but that it happened on the third day. When Jesus was raised, it wasn’t just a resuscitation, it was something more: he was raised to never die again. That’s resurrection.

And Paul’s point here, as he says elsewhere in his letters, is that what is true of Jesus the Messiah is true of us. What happened to Jesus will one day happen to us. If it won’t happen to us – if we deny that the resurrection of the body will happen – then what is the purpose of Jesus’ resurrection? Paul goes further and says that if we won’t be raised then it must be that Christ was not raised. And if that is the case, then we are still in our sins, because sin and death are intertwined in Paul’s worldview. We would still be in our sins and death would remain the victor.

But, Paul, says, Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the “first fruits” of those who have died. The language of “first fruits” is why we affirm that what happened to Jesus on the third day will happen to us on the final day: that will be the harvest from when we have been buried, planted, interred, or returned to the earth or laid to rest.

So, I say again, Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead just so you could go to heaven when you die. He was raised so that one day we, too, will be raised. God will do more than resuscitate our mortal bodies…but restore, redeem, and endow our bodies, this creation, with amazing new possibilities that will leave us eternally in awe of God’s ability to make all things new.

The resurrection is part of why we ought not treat our world like trash. The resurrection is why my family recycles. The resurrection is why we should be good stewards of our bodies. The resurrection is why we should strive to fight for the dignity and well-being of all humans on the face of the planet. The resurrection is why we seek to be Christ’s hands, feet, and voice now, getting to experience the beauty of salvation now, living for the kingdom of God in Christ now, even while we wait for the later when God will give life to these mortal bodies. And at the end of the day and the end of life, the resurrection is why we do grieve even to the point of breaking down and weeping, because of how much we love and will miss the person who has died. And the resurrection is why we don’t believe these bodies are prisons or shells but when we die, await a glorious time when God will do with our bodies what he did with Jesus’ on the third day. And what do we see Jesus doing after the third day? Well, the same sort of things we do even now: eating fish, breaking bread, walking and talking, showing the scars of our past. Only now, he could do more! As if given a new dimension, he was able to show up behind a closed, locked door; travel to Galilee in no time; and so on.

A new dimension. In geometry, a line is one-dimensional – length; when lines form to make a shape, it’s two-dimensional – length and width. But it remains two-dimensional until you add depth or height. Is that third dimension separate from the other dimensions? No. It is made up of them but adds more.

That’s one way to see the resurrection: it’s something mysterious and amazing and beyond the world as we currently know it. And yet while it is beyond and more than it, it is not so “other” that it is less than whatever truth and goodness and beauty we currently know. Believing this means that we are not to be pitied but that we live in hope.

Note from the Editor: The featured artwork is titled “Harbingers of the Resurrection” by Nikolai Ge, 1867.

Aaron Perry ~ A Grief in Birth

I’ve never been pregnant. I watched my wife, a complete champion, bear three children with heroic efforts. Bearing a child means to carry the child through pregnancy to birth, when the child is born. Leading up to the birth, there are contractions. Contractions prepare the body to deliver the baby by shortening uterine muscles and dilating the cervix. As the uterus contracts and the cervix expands, the baby passes through the birth canal. But that description is deceptively simple. Like I said, it took heroic efforts.

And a midwife. By no means could I keep my wits through the process to support my wife to any great extent. I was able to boil water (stereotypes to the wind!), rub her back, cheer her on, and grab towels. But a midwife helped keep me together and coached my wife along. I’ll come back to this point.

My Dad died on October 17, 2018. It was about 30 months after a terminal liver cancer diagnosis. My Dad taught me many things; he was teaching us until the day he died. My brother, Tim, summed it well: He taught us to die slowly. By God’s grace, most of my Dad’s final 30 months were quite enjoyable. He had a good quality and quantity of life post-diagnosis. A doctor helped us to frame the situation: Dad refused to surrender to death easily and fought in such a way that he won many battles, though it was a losing war.

I am now learning to grieve. And my Dad isn’t here to teach me. I watched grief and experienced grief after the deaths of grandparents. But, like pregnancies, deaths and their grieving are unique. My Dad’s grief for his own parents was different from my own. C.S. Lewis noted after the death of his wife that he didn’t know grief felt so much like fear. The fear I have is that I won’t grieve – or that I won’t grieve well. I have had my tears, but what is grief supposed to look like? How will I know I’ve grieved?

Every pregnancy was different. My children were all carried differently. They sat in different positions and they liked different foods; they rested and played at different times, all within my wife’s body. I recall one time when my unborn daughter (though I didn’t know the child was a girl at the time) was awake but my wife was asleep. We played a little game of tag. I would tap my wife’s abdomen and wait for the response: a kick. I would wait just a bit and then tap again. Another brief pause and then another kick. There was a little life inside my wife, completely dependent on her to survive yet with a life and will of her own.

I’m taught and I teach that grief comes in waves. It’s true; I don’t deny it. Grief often comes in force and then recedes. But (so far) not for me. I wait for the waves, but they don’t come. There are only brief laps at the beach’s edge, laps that dissipate without foam, even, into the sand. I want more.

Back to the midwife. My wife learned to handle contractions in waves: accept them as they come, breathing and staying as relaxed as possible, and, finally, letting them go. I don’t know what a contraction feels like and I don’t know what grieving—this grieving, at least—is supposed to feel like. This unique grieving has taken the form of irritability, temptation, weariness, flashes of drive and energy.

I take these experiences as contractions. You can’t stop contractions and you can’t speed them up. They come and they go. Contractions prepare the body to birth a baby. They intensify and bring urges to push; the body wants to deliver the baby. In a similar way, I want to control my grief. I want to speed up the waves. I want to be delivered of my grief.

“Heather, on the next contraction, you are going to want to push. You are going to want to push very, very badly, but I need you not to push. If you push, you are going to blast that baby right out of you.” That was some of the most memorable support the midwife gave my wife. The contractions were working, but the body was not yet ready to be delivered of the baby.

I want to blast this grief right out of me. But I can’t. At least, it will be harmful if I do. I need to hold on and let the grief come; let these grieving moments do their work until the grief is fully delivered. I need to do this without breaking trust—without giving into the irritability, the temptation, the manic drive. C.S. Lewis didn’t know grief felt so much like fear; I didn’t know grief took so much faith. 

Note from the Editor: the featured image is from the painting “Grief” by
Morteza Katouzian, 1983.

Omar Al-Rikabi ~ The Stuff of Life

Note from the Editor: Enjoy this…fascinating sermon from Rev. Omar Al-Rikabi.

In a first for Wesleyan Accent, we recommend listening for ages 13 and up or at parental discretion.






Edgar Bazan ~ Remember Me: Grace Among Criminals

I have met many people who believe they need to earn God’s favor. They are insecure about the goodness of God. They believe they need to give something up, to pay the price or suffer in some way in order to merit God’s blessings.

I also have met people whose issue is not insecurity but pride: those who feel they have paid their “dues” and are entitled to the blessing. The teaching of today’s word will address these issues. And this is the premise: God looks to our hearts, not to our works, to grant us grace. So, what does it take for anyone, regardless of their path, to experience the blessing of God, the healing and wholeness only God can provide?

To answer this, we are going to look at what happened to Jesus and what he did in the last moments of his life. Let’s read from Luke 23:33-43 (NRSV). This is the story of the crucifixion of Jesus:

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

For most of the Gospel accounts, we see the attractive side of Jesus: healing people, protecting the powerless, going after and saving the lost, feeding the hungry. In very few instances do we find Jesus struggling or in sorrow. But today we do as we recall the crucifixion. In this text, we find Jesus among criminals dying nailed to a cross after being rejected, betrayed, and despised by his enemies. Death by crucifixion represented the most shameful and worst way to die. It meant that God (or the gods) had cursed you. The place called The Skull was a place of death. The sight is that of a horror movie; worse because if you were there, you could actually smell the rotting flesh. The smell was so thick that anyone could hardly breathe.

Furthermore, just to help us get in the context of this event, consider the following. It was like going to a funeral, except that the people coming were not family and friends joining to celebrate the memory and life of a loved one.

This was a death-bed among enemies.

There were no cookies and coffee before or after, nor were you there meeting your third cousin for the first time. Instead of being surrounded by people who loved you, you were surrounded by people who cursed and despised you. And if this was not bad enough, you were not even dead yet, but you were the main attraction, expected to become the last punchline of mocking and humiliation.

It is in this context that we find Jesus’ last moments. In most artists’ conception of the crucifixion, Christ is painted as valiantly facing death, straight and committed with a glow of light all around him stronger than all others around the Cross. But this picture is not the one the Gospels paint. In the crucifixion, Jesus is weak, collapsing, tired, miserable. In the eyes of his enemies, he did not die a hero, but a criminal. In the eyes of his friends, he did not die in victory but in shame and defeat.

Sadly, if this wasn’t bad enough, most of his disciples failed at this time. He was abandoned, forsaken. Judas Iscariot betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver; Peter denied him three times with oaths and affirmations of a strong nature. The exceptions were his mother, Mary, along with a handful of disciples. She didn’t want to be there; she was witnessing her firstborn son crucified in shame and dishonor, in between thieves, but she had no choice, she was a mother and loved him as such.

However, Jesus was not weak nor was he a victim.

He freely, willingly, deliberately took the journey to the cross. It was not Judas Iscariot’s treachery, or the hate of his enemies, or the power of the Roman Empire, or Pontius Pilate who brought Jesus to the cross. What brought Jesus to be crucified before them all was his love for them, his very own enemies; he brought himself to this occasion because of his love for each one of us. He suffered our guilt, being himself innocent, dying among criminals.

And here is where the answer to our question lies. It is not found with the disciples, or even with Mary, mother of Jesus but with the thieves.

The clue for us to learn the path to healing is found among the condemned.

Let me recall, “when they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.” In my opinion, paradoxically, love and grace are nowhere illustrated in Scripture as well as in this case. Our healing, love, and grace are found among the criminals. Let’s be clear, these vile men had no “good works” to rely on. They had no high standard of morality. Rather, they were wicked men; they respected neither the law of God nor the law of man. There is no way that either could say they had earned God’s favor. They were thieves, lawbreakers, arrested, tried and condemned. Their misery was immense, and they were receiving the reward of their deeds. No time for good works, for getting baptized, becoming a member of the church or anything like that, if salvation was to be attained in such a way.

However, for one of them, the time he had left was enough to mutter one of the most consequential and profound words we read in the Gospel: “Remember me.” He had a change of heart. He recognized that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah, that he had the power to help him. (Exell, 589-591) And instead of mocking him, he rebuked the other thief and challenged him with these words: “Don’t you fear God since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

The thief hanging felt his guilt, but his faith was also unhesitating, full, confiding. (Exell, 589-591) The thief was changed in an instant, gained spiritual discernment on his deathbed and was able to see beyond the broken humanity of Jesus. He saw a king. And he did not ask for a favor, for blessings, even for mercy. In his misery, he dared not to ask anything, but to be remembered.

Somehow, he understood that Jesus was not a pretender, and as he looked across he saw not another dying man, but the Messiah, and decided to place his fate in him.

How can any kind of human being have such faith in such dark, hopeless and excruciating moment? Yet here we have the poorest of them all, being convicted by the Spirit of God, finally understanding in the grimmest hour the gravity of his sins, and his inability to provide for his own redemption; a humbled, broken soul. A miracle in the making.

And it is here that we see the promise of Jesus being fulfilled when he said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” To be poor in spirit means to know our place in God’s creation. It is not about lacking, but about an honest assessment of our need for God. It is the time when we realize that we can’t make it on our own. It is the time when we are totally and completely dependent upon God. Here is a poor man.

And Jesus heard the cry of this poor soul, honoring the exercise of his faith by blessing him as he had promised and answering, “I tell you the truth, you will be with me in paradise.” The thief asked Jesus to remember him, but Jesus goes further by saying in essence, “you will be with me, you will not only be in my thoughts but in my presence. You will be home.” In the context of being mocked about his claims of saving others, Jesus extends salvation to yet another person. (Nolland, 1153)

Jesus took this broken cursed man, a thief that was dying for his crimes, straight with him to paradise. Jesus escorted a lowly sinner saved by God’s grace beyond the gates of hell and through the gates of paradise. How effortlessly can divine grace raise the vilest, rudest and worst of us by a simple request just to be remembered?

This man found what he had missed his whole life, and it was on a deathbed. He found hope where there was only death, pain, and despair. He had made choices throughout his life that pushed people away; he had already been abandoned. He was the shame of his family, yet no one had experienced what he did at that moment. This is love and grace; this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what he does for us. It is the gift only God can give, one that we can’t earn or win.

I personally have discerned that grace is what God does for us, not based on what we deserve but on what we need. This man next to Jesus is proof that none of us have to reach a certain standard or level of holiness before God accepts us as a child. That thief is proof that we don’t have to get our lives under control to merit approaching Jesus and be blessed by him. The thief on the cross is proof that salvation is by faith and grace alone, and anyone that calls on his name can be saved.

What does this mean to us?

No matter where you are right now in your life, where you are coming from, or what you have done, hope can find you.

I know the past has a way of haunting us; don’t be possessed by it. Even if you find yourself on a deathbed figuratively of literally, feeling forsaken, abandoned, doubtful, confused, or scared to death, hope will find you. And it has today. Hope will dare to go to the darkest places to find you. And it has today. If you would only open the eyes and ears of your heart, you will see hope right now standing before you with open arms. And it will suffice only to say, “remember me” to have access to all God’s goodness, love, grace, forgiveness, and hope through Jesus Christ.

This is the Gospel.

So today, would you ask to be with him? And I do not mean it as in, “rest in peace.” But to be with him as you continue to walk in this life, so your journey may lead you to paradise too. Would you ask to be remembered?

My friends, I take this Word today on the assumption that there are those of us who are seeking God, either because they have never yet found him or else because their faith is weak and they have lost assurance that they belong to God. I take this Word to those of you who also have relied on personal merits and efforts to approach God.

These are my last words as you are being convicted by the Spirit of God and considering how to respond to this invitation. In his own weakness and suffering, Jesus learned yours. He knows of your suffering; he knows of your pain; the things you can’t tell anyone else, he knows them all. Whatever is your experience right now, today, we all are offered salvation. What is there to do but to rely on Jesus’ compassion? No payment is needed, no prerequisites demanded but a humble heart. To quote Psalms 51, “a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

Let’s place our life, our destiny in Jesus’ hands. Let’s be blessed and healed.

Don’t be forgotten, be remembered.

Works Cited
Comfort, Philip Wesley. Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. Tyndale Publishers, 2005. Print.

Exell, Joseph S. The Biblical Illustrator: St. Luke Volume 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1963. Print.

Nolland, John. World Biblical Commentary. Vol. 35c. Thomas Nelson, 1993. Print.

Nouwen, Henri. Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. HarperCollins

e-books, 2010.

Tom Fuerst ~ Mothers, Sons and the Crucifix

The fundamental difference between the Protestant’s cross and the Catholic’s crucifix lies in the Protestant belief that Christ is no longer on the cross. He has resurrected and ascended.

Or so Protestant polemics go.

In what follows, I do not care to discuss Catholic vs. Protestant soteriology or the differences between their accounts of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. All I wish to discuss is the fact that, a few years ago, this here Protestant found immeasurable comfort in Christ on the cross – a crucifix on the wall in a Catholic nursing home chapel.

I’d been in and out of the nursing home visiting my 51-year-old mom in the last days of her fight with cancer. None of us expected the illness to progress as quickly as it did. But in a mere month and a half, we went from optimism about her diagnosis to staring down her mortality and releasing her into the loving hands of Jesus.

My encounter with the crucifix began on the night I had to decide to sign my mom up for hospice care. She was so weak I had to help her hold the pen. Even then she could only make a scratch on the page. Her once-beautiful signature which used to sign my birthday cards, report cards, and detention slips was reduced to a single scratch on several pieces of hospice paperwork.

In this moment I was forced to grapple with the existential angst, fear, and brokenness that smothers ever-shattered souls stepping one inch closer to the inevitable realization of our mortality.


Mom is mortal.

I am mortal.

I needed to leave the room as soon as we signed all the forms. I didn’t know where I was going. I found myself in a wing of the nursing home I hadn’t visited before, looking for some privacy.

Barely holding back tears, I stumbled into the chapel.

Now, despite the fact that I’m a Christian – not to mention a pastor – I did not choose the chapel for some spiritual reason. I simply chose it because no one would be able to find me in there. Or more specifically, no one would be able to hear me weeping in there.

I looked around for a second or two, not noticing anything about the chapel except the fact that the least visible place in the room was on the floor behind the back few pews. It was the perfect place to hide. It was a perfectly private place to grieve.

I don’t know how long I sat there with my face in my knees. Fifteen minutes. Thirty minutes. An hour. I don’t know. But after a while, I looked around the room and saw a plethora of Catholic images and icons, most of which are probably quite familiar to Catholic Christians but are quite foreign to us Protestants, who sanctimoniously brag of our lack of “graven images” and our risen Christ.

It was clear in these various items that the crucifixion of Jesus and the sufferings of Mary are of foremost importance in the hearts of the persons who designed this chapel. From the seven depictions of Christ’s crucifixion story to the mother of Jesus holding her infant son as she stretched out her arms to the weeping worshiper, the entire chapel was an invitation to see our sufferings – our very humanity – in light of the fact that neither Jesus nor Mary was exempt from suffering, pain, or death.

In fact, the truth experienced in that chapel was not merely that Jesus was not exempt from suffering or death, but more specifically, that Jesus shares in our suffering and death and we share in his.

On the opposite wall from the statue of the virgin and her baby boy hung a wooden crucifix. Not a pretty one. Not a bloodless one. A horrific one. A crucifix agonizing to see, even though its monochromatic varnish shields viewers from all the viciousness of the reality it depicts. In this crucifix, I saw that with every broken rib and visible wound, our God hung naked before the world, taking upon himself, not only all of our sin but all of our suffering. This is a God who did not remain indifferent to our suffering, our illnesses, our cancers, but who on that cross waged war against our mortality.

This is a God whose resurrection was preceded by a deep and unrelenting experience of our mortality. Before he ever won the war, he first lost this battle to death.

Could it be that Catholics “leave Christ on the cross,” not because they fail to recognize his resurrection, but because they believe the God who lost his Son on the cross suffers with me as I hide on the floor of this chapel? Maybe God is not just up in the sky somewhere looking down half-callously saying, “Hey, don’t worry about how bad it hurts now. She’s going to heaven because Jesus died for her sins.” He’s not up there saying, “Here, have this opiate and buck up.” Instead, in the crucified Jesus, God draws near to us, weeps with us, feels forsaken with us, knows loss with us, and even dies with us. Even his mother shudders from the pain of it.


Mom is mortal.

I am mortal.

Jesus was mortal.

Jesus died.

God was dead.


And while I know that the story does not end there, while I know Jesus came down off that cross and ascended as the Lord of Life, there is a deep and infinite beauty in knowing that my mother’s broken body is preceded by the broken body of her Creator.

An empty cross certainly announces victory over death. But a crucifix, hoisting the dying Savior with outstretched arms, is a warm welcome to all who are wrecked and weary.

Resurrection is coming.

But for now, we suffer. Together.

Faith Parry ~ Dying Well

“Do you never think about [death]? Why do you not? Are you never to die? Nay, it is appointed for all men to die. And what comes after? Only heaven or hell. Will the not thinking of death, put it farther off? No; not a day; not one hour.”

— Rev. John Wesley, “A Word to an Unhappy Woman”

This might seem to be a strange post but I think it’s a perfect one, because the reason we, as Methodists, die well, is because of Christ’s death and resurrection. Let me back up and explain.


The early Methodists were known as people who died well. They had grace and assurance of God’s love and forgiveness for them, so they did not fear death. Furthermore, John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) made it a point to share the stories of those who died and went on to glory. Wesley knew that if we are going to die well, then we must live well. We must live every day honoring God so that we are alright if it is our last.

The country song “Live Like you are Dying” has it right in the title, but wrong in the words. It’s not about taking extra vacations (although you should spend plenty of time with your family). We should live every day in a way that, if we were to die, we would be proud of the lives we lived when we stood before God.


If you read my post on Lent, then you know that Lent is really about a time for us to mourn Christ’s death. If you go to an Ash Wednesday service, you’ll hear something like, “From ashes you came, and to ashes you will return. Repent and you will be forgiven.” The point of this is to remember that we all will die one day.

When Holy Week comes (the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday), we really crank things up. On Maundy Thursday, we relive Christ’s last supper in different ways, then on Good Friday, many people go into mourning on a deeper level. Many churches cover the cross in their sanctuaries. The Catholic church always covers the crucifix and it’s the one time the Christ candle is burned out and the tabernacle is emptied. Christ has left the building.

But then, on Easter morning, Christ overcomes death and returns to life! For us as Christians, this is our reminder every year that when we die, our death isn’t permanent. One day, we will be physically resurrected and rejoined with everyone we love in the life everlasting.


A couple of weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure to usher a young girl, just a few years younger than me, into glory. I always consider this to be one of the most unique honors I have as a pastor because it’s a living testimony of this girl’s life. I get to listen to her family share of the life she lived for God and we get to ask God to welcome her into his loving arms. In the end, we pray that he will care for her until we all get to meet her again one day.

This is the hope of our faith. It’s the most beautiful thing to watch people, who in their grief, still see God at work. I want to live my life in a way that people will look back on it and know that I spent every day dedicated to God. This was one of the things Wesley wrote in his death accounts, and I hope someone can say it about me when the Lord takes me home:

“She was a woman of faith and prayer; in life and death adorning the doctrine of God her Saviour.”

— John Wesley



Rev. Faith Parry blogs about church life at www.faithparry.com. 

Carrie Carter ~ Living Alive

I’ve seen a lot of death. Not just because my husband has a full-time pastoral calling, but also because my parents never shielded me from the reality of death. Many parents today hesitate to take their children to funerals because, “they wouldn’t understand,” and that is true, but only to an extent. As a parent, it is my duty (privilege?) to explain the mystery of death.

At the viewing of my grandfather many years ago with my own son…

“Yes, you may touch the cheek of Poppy. Gently, now.”

“Why does he feel weird? Wait! I think I saw him breathe!”

“No, baby, it’s your eyes playing tricks on you.”

A few weeks following…

“Look, it’s heaven!”

Trying to decipher small boy’s exclamation.


Pointing to the cemetery.

“Over there! You said that’s where Poppy was going, and we took him there, so that must be heaven.”

Insert awkward explanation to a literal-thinking three-year-old about the vague timeline between resting and eternal destination.

Over the next couple of years…

“No, you may not touch the cheek of ‘insert-random-deceased’s- name.’”

“Can I ask ‘grieving-relative’ if I can touch him/her?”

“No, this is not an appropriate time for that.”

Unfortunately, my son didn’t always ask me before he asked the grieving loved one. Grace was always extended and always resolved with a hearty chuckle.

He had such a fascination with death and a deeply sympathetic heart for the grieving at such a young age, that I wouldn’t have been surprised had he grown up to be a funeral director. It still wouldn’t surprise me.

It is this exposure to death and the traditional ceremonies that follow that calms the fear of the unknown. In fact, in most cases, I welcome the re-orientation that a funeral brings to me. There is a shift of perspective, a reminder that my priorities again need to be realigned. It makes me very aware that sympathy can only reach so far, and it is only empathy that can touch a heart. I have never lost an immediate family member or close friend, so I am always conscious of my lack of understanding of the intensity of pain those losses bring under normal circumstances.

Last month, my family suffered a loss and a near-loss that awakened me—not just to the familiarity of death, but also to the foreignness of life.

Foreign? How could something so natural, so normal, be characterized as foreign?

Unless you have seen over the edge of life’s precipice, it is difficult to grasp the magnitude of life itself. When you sense the fingers of death brush over your shoulder and realize that it has rested its hand on one close to you, life holds a value not recognized before – a value prompting gratitude that emanates out of the heart.

How then, shall life be lived? How do we step back from our story as a stranger and embrace our lives as our own?

Life, as it should be lived, is far more than a bucket list, more than another experience to cross off.

Life is being aware.

It is absorbing the sights and sounds around you. Feeling the peace as well as the pain. Life is allowing God to overflow you until he spills out on everyone around you. It is speaking for those who have no voice, standing for those beaten down. It is taking every opportunity to reach out a hand to someone in need. Life is treating your marriage as sacred, treasuring your children as a gift. Life pauses to hear context rather than anger; it speaks a gentle word instead of driving the blade deep.

Life begs to be viewed through new eyes.

Do you make an effort to appreciate gestures of kindness, even the smallest ones? Do you have the ability to recognize when someone is having a rough day? Can you sense a need without it being spoken? Can you say you’ve made others’ lives better as you walk out of the room?

Life is being aware. All in.

I feel it fading, this reality of life that always comes when I am faced with death. Aliveness lasts for two or three weeks. I write notes of appreciation to those who have contributed to my life. I send “thinking of you” texts. Suppers actually have love sprinkled into them rather than impatience and frustration. I’m on top of making sure everyone has clean clothes.

Then the mundane sets in. Routine, pressures, and conflict pull my focus away and I find myself distracting my mind with Tsum Tsum rather than reorienting myself with God’s gift of simply being alive.

Last year, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to live every day as if it were New Year’s Day—fresh, hopeful, and anticipating a bright future.

I lasted until about April.

This year, within the first two weeks of 2018, my mother-in-law passed away, and a friend faced a life-threatening medical emergency with a poor prognosis. Both were unexpected. One was released from life and one was given a new lease on life.

Death breathed on my cheek and with a whisper, reminded me to live alive.

“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”    -2 Corinthians 3:5 (NASB)