Noticing the Sacred In Each Other

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’” –Luke 1: 40-45, NRSV

I love the image at the heart of this Advent text. Mary and Elizabeth, both unexpected carriers of this new life gift, greet in joy as they recognize the divine life within each other. Elizabeth proclaims that the child in her womb moves, leaps, in recognition of the child in Mary’s. The sacred life forming within us pulls us toward awareness of the sacred life forming in others.

This text describes our hope for relationship– that we might find ourselves expectant of the divine life present in every person we encounter. My own ministry has been shaped by Margaret Guenther’s simple wisdom, “when in doubt, I always assume that God is at work.” What if I adopted that attitude toward every person I greet? How might my relationships, expectations, and behaviors change if I assumed God’s presence and activity in everyone?

In my culture, we find ourselves in a tense time of suspicion, division, and increasing fear. As I ponder the meaning of Advent into these realities, the story of Mary and Elizabeth offers hope for what can be. Two women offer a sacred yes, bear an impossible promise, and delight in the presence of the sacred in each other.

May it be also with us. May we have the courage to see the sacred coming to life in each one, even in unexpected people and places. May we nurture that life as together we bring to birth a world of justice and love.

Holy Saturday

by Kris Judd

Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God.  This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.

On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

Luke 15:50-556(NRSV)

Death surrounded them, encircled them, and knocked them off their feet. The events of the preceding days had happened so quickly they had no time to fully prepare for the life-changing, hope-betraying crucifixion they had just witnessed. The future that had been so bright, filled with miracles and baptisms and new followers suddenly turned dark, just as the skies that stood over the three crosses just the day before.

Jesus was dead. The dreams to challenge the empire were now dead as well. What would become of these men and women who had given up everything they knew—careers, family, security, status—to follow this crazy dreamer? If they had known it was going to end this way, would they have made the same choices? What was left for them to choose now—now that their world had ended?

Filled with shock, then sadness and fear, they chose to hide, cloistered together. They had been told to wait, but for what? They had waited all of their lives for this Redeemer. Could they wait any longer? What other choices did they have but to wait? They did what was most familiar and perhaps comforting to them in this time of chaos and confusion. They stopped trying to make life work; they observed Sabbath and rested.

For today’s readers, this day offers us Sabbath as well. Holy Saturday extends to us the same invitation to rest in an uncomfortable place where we do not know exactly what we are waiting for, but where we can’t return to what we once had. We live suspended between the familiar and the unseen, between what we know and what we must trust. No wonder we numbly move from the crucifixion to the resurrection, barely noticing the 24 hours in between. It’s too painful to live in this space between death and new life. It’s easier to be in the certainty of one or the other.

Like the early disciples, we live in chaos, confusion, deep sadness, and even fear. The future we had prepared for is no longer visible, and perhaps not even possible, since crucifixion erased those dreams and resurrection hasn’t yet been made real.

Sister Joan Chittister writes, “The spirituality of religious life today is neither the spirituality of the cross nor the spirituality of the resurrection. The spirituality of our time is the spirituality of Holy Saturday: a spirituality of confusion and consternation, of ineffectiveness and powerlessness, of faith in darkness and the power of hope. It is a spirituality that carries on when carrying on seems most futile.”—The Fire in These Ashes, p 41

This day of preparation, Holy Saturday, is a day to carry on into what seems futile and to live in the mystery of endings when we long for new beginnings. This is a day to surrender into an agenda that is not our own, in a world where our vision of what makes sense gives way to a future that is not tied to our desires or plans. Without the dying, there will be no new life or transformation for us or for the world. On this day, let us rest, release control, and simply make space for that which will be soon unwrapped before us.

Good Friday

by Jane M. Gardner

In German, today is called Karfreitag or “Sorrowful Friday.” This resonates with me as a description closely tied to the events of Jesus’ last Friday on earth. It was a day of betrayal, violence, and suffering.

There was much about which to be sorrowful. So, why in English do we use “Good Friday”? The origin of the use of “Good” is not clear. Some say it came from an older English name, “God’s Friday” – used to describe Jesus’ faithful response to the mission God called him to perform.

Others link the use of “Good” with the coming dawn of Easter. It is a day that found Jesus trusting and true to God’s purposes. There would be no Easter without the events of Friday, making it a good, essential day.

Regardless of the origin, using “Good” as a descriptor for this Friday is not meant to be an attempt to avoid difficulty and sorrow. Rather, the dramatic events on the last day of Jesus’ life lead purposefully to suffering and, for the good of humanity, to resurrection hope.

Might we be able to find ourselves in this Good Friday story? Can we name our suffering? Think about the women at the foot of the cross. They came face-to-face with Jesus’ suffering and didn’t run away. They stood firm in their sorrow. Perhaps our place is with them. To follow Jesus on Good Friday means to be near the cross and witness, like the women. We follow Jesus by standing still and taking it all in. We follow Jesus by acknowledging that hurt and sorrow are part of life. We purposefully stand still and don’t rush away from the pain. Today we stand at the cross and find God in the stillness and the suffering.

We knowingly enter into Good Friday every year. It is a sacred story and a sacred time. As we choose the discomfort, grief, and sadness of this day, may it bring to mind the suffering that is around us and in us. Find the stillness of this day and through it discern your mission to stand purposefully with those who are suffering and in pain. Take it in. And let the Spirit guide you to be a faithful disciple, even in the moments that are difficult. After all, it is God’s Friday, not ours.