These past weeks of Lent, a group of us have been studying the UCC curriculum Faithfully Facing Dying, written in response to the General Synod pronouncement about physician-assisted death. In some circumstances, narrowly defined, is it appropriate for a physician to administer, at the request of the dying person, drugs that will bring about a quick death? Our study has been leading us to ponder that question as we’ve considered how to plan for the end of our lives. As medical technologies improve, more of us than ever, may receive medical care that will extend our lives beyond our mental capacity of awareness or our physical endurance of pain. If that should happen, would we like the option of receiving help from a physician to end our lives? In our class, we are not of one mind on the subject. It reminds me of the answer to just about every legal question I’ve been studying in law school: “It depends”. We all agree on this, life is precious and we want to enjoy its blessings as long as we can. When we begin to define blessings, that’s when we begin to vary.
I think about those variances, how we all define blessings, as we walk together into the last days of Jesus’ life. There are so many moments along the eight days – Palm Sunday to Easter – that make me wonder at Jesus’ resolve. When he chose to enter Jerusalem, the seat of Roman power, when he overturned tables in the temple, sent messages to Herod, calling him a fox, turned the Passover meal into a new way to understand his eternal presence, looked eye-to-eye at Judas, prayed in Gethsemane for another way, was arrested by soldiers, experienced Rome’s system of justice, meted out by Pilate, became another statistic in the count of those executed by the state. These were all intense experiences, for him, for his disciples and followers, and for us who read them year after year, wondering if we will ever truly know our Messiah. Will we ever need to summon that kind of courage and trust in our own lives?
This year, we are offering four worship experiences to ponder the end of Jesus’ life. The tenebrae service on Maundy Thursday is the first one, intentionally and immediately following a pot-luck supper with communion. Then, on Good Friday itself, Rob Grabill will represent us in the ecumenical service held at the noon hour at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hanover. Beginning at 3pm at Rollins Chapel, there will be a walk around Hanover, remembering the stations of the cross. Our church is the first stop. Finally, Ernie and I decided to add a special service of worship at 5:30 in our sanctuary. With music for cello and soprano, we will be in quiet prayer and meditation. I urge you, PLEASE attend one, two, or all four of these Good Friday observances. Easter morning becomes much more important a celebration when one has fully faced the sorrows of Good Friday. When joy comes out of despair, it takes on the very contours of God’s face.
And one more thing – readers of this newsletter know of my abhorrence of the death penalty, state-sponsored vengeance of the most barbaric kind. New Hampshire is a death penalty state. Governor Lynch appointed a study commission in New Hampshire. The Commission will next study whether the death penalty is a deterrent to further crime at its April 9 meeting. It will then consider whether the death penalty comports with evolving moral standards at its May 14 meeting. The NH Council of Churches, of which we are a member, and denominational leaders have been invited to testify at the May 14 meeting. The Commission’s final report is due Dec. 1, 2010. Some time during the 24 hours of Good Friday, please pray for the work of the study commission, and the work of the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Make the connection between first century Rome’s state-sponsored death penalty practice, and ours. I will be giving out death penalty information for you to read on Good Friday.
Lastly, remember that dying, no matter how it comes about - by murder, execution, suicide, or automobile accident, by cancer, heart disease, oxygen deprivation or old age – dying is not God’s last word. That’s why we celebrate Easter.
Love to us all - Carla