A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
By The Rev. J. Carr Holland, Rector, Grace Church, Newark, NJ
This is no ordinary Sunday.
This is not even an ordinary Sunday in Easter.
We stand in a place where Christian history
will open a new chapter with the death of John Paul II,
and the weeks ahead, which will see the election
of the next Pope.
Rome has an orderly process by which to allow for this transition. Much of the Roman Catholic world is in mourning It is a time for them to honor one who has been a
faithful leader with a vision of peace and human respect.
Even if we take exception to particular teachings,
we do well to honor a good man for his time.
When this mourning period is established,
a new Pope will be elected and put in place.
Orderly transitions are important if not always provided for.
We saw over these last weeks in the case of Terri Schiavo
that families can be torn asunder
by not providing for such transitions.
Yes she was relatively young when her health
began this decline, but she yielded a real mess.
Political leaders can misuse such moments.
The normal legal systems may not be up to such moments,
or may be abused by emotionally distraught people.
The promise of eternal life may be rendered no comfort
by the very faith which has built its hope on this comfort
when the wrong powers try to reinterpret it.
So it is not hard to understand the reaction of Thomas
to our Lord’s death and
the rumor he had been raised from the dead.
He and the followers of Jesus were facing
a radically altering world view.
Today’s gospel spans the space between Easter Sunday,
when Jesus appears in the evening to his disciples,
and the following Sunday when Jesus appears
to the missing Disciple, Thomas.
On Easter Sunday evening in John’s Gospel,
Jesus appears to the disciples and leaves 2 gifts,
the gift of Peace, some inner sense of well-being
and He breaths on them the gift of the Holy Spirit.
John seems quiet intentional here.
As God “breathed” life into Adam, the proto-human,
at the beginning of creation,
so Jesus now breathes the new, spiritual,
life of recreated humanity into his followers.
Nothing less then our recreation as a people of faith
is at stake here in John’s Gospel.
Aided by the Spirit, the disciples continue Jesus’ judicial role
in the world, forgiving the sins of the faithful
and holding others blameworthy (“retain”) for their actions.
In these rather revolutionary moments,
Jesus bequeaths to his followers his work
and his eternal values.
Through them, through the Church that follows
people will forever have access
to God’s forgiving Grace and hope.
Faith is the door by which we enter.
For those not present this was just too fantastic a story
to be taken seriously by some, Thomas included.
He wanted some tangible proof,
something to touch, to handle, to believe.
“What if it is not true?” seems his sub-text.
The next Sunday, the community gathers again.
Upon seeing, Thomas makes the most complete
affirmation of faith of anyone in the gospel.
“My Lord and My God!”
This is the core faith of all generations to come.
In Jesus we see God and in his life and teachings
we find the guidance we need for life.
On this second Sunday of Easter,
life has given us an example of this faith practice
and hope in the death of John Paul II.
Having struggled with diminishing health and quality of life,
he for whatever reasons, was willing to undergo
a tracheotomy to aid his breathing for a period of time.
He even accepted a more invasive feeding tube
for a short period.
Then He had it removed,
` or he provided a way for others to make that decision.
During his last days he asked to have the scriptures read
to him. He made his final confession.
He accepted the healing rites of the Church.
He asked that the Stations of the Cross be read to him,
as it had long been his habit to pray them regularly
in his own private garden.
In other words in his dimming hours
he maintained his life long spiritual disciplines.
Or so it would appear to the outside observer.
He embraced the resurrection of the Dead
as a principle of his life.
And we believe it has now embraced him.
He practiced what is available to us all, the maintenance
of our spiritual life, the gift of spiritual care.
This was totally unlike the process with Mrs. Schiavo.
Her death was turned into a circus.
Whatever testimony of faith her death might have had,
was lost to all it would seem.
So on this Second Sunday of Easter what does any of this
have to do with you and me, people of faith as we are.
A lot I believe.
As people of faith we have a chance to prepare
for our ending with as much or more care
as we used in our living.
If we love our families or our faith communities,
we will take time to plan our endings.
Few of us know how or when we will die,
but we can help plan how we will die,
with what dignity and meaning.
First we need to think about how we want to die,
with what dignity.
What medical measures do we want taken?
Given that we can be hooked up to machinery
to keep our bodies functioning long after our minds may
or our bodies are designed to function.
Is there a limit to what we wish to endure?
Is there a point where we wish the natural dying process
to be allowed to lead us to God? This is important.
While we may not like thinking about this,
we need to know that if we do not, doctors, judges, and
apparently Republican politicians will decide for us.
People we may barely know.
you can empower someone who loves you
or knows you to carry out your own wishes.
This is both a loving and faithful thing to do.
It relieves loved ones of the full burden of figuring out
what is our best wish and hope.
If we want to spend years on machines,
months, weeks or days, we can design this.
If we want to empower others to decide, we can design this.
In a time when loved ones are confused by the love
and possible lose of us we have cared for them.
We have guided them to our best hope.
We have empowered them to carry it out.
Another similar document, a Power of Attorney
can be used to allow a trusted friend
to take care of our financial life if we are rendered
unable to speak and act for ourselves.
They can pay our bills. They can help us stay financially
afloat when because of illness we are not aware.
And when we shall be embraced by death, what will become
of our responsibilities to our families or loved ones?
What will become of our material goods?
If we don’t decide, the State will and
it might not be anywhere near what you hoped.
Shortly after my daughter was born,
I drew up my first “Last Will and Testament”.
I had no reason to think I would die soon.
Yet her care was important to me.
Important to establish her inheritance, and most importantly,
who would care for her if both her parents died.
After my divorce, I drew up a new one
as my priorities were changed with my life.
And something else changed too.
As Meghann was closer to independence,
I decided I wanted to leave a percentage
of my small estate to do God’s work in the World.
I named Grace Church as the recipient of 25% of my estate
should I die after Meghann’s 25th Birthday.
It was a way to honor what this place
it’s people and God mean to me and
to help it carry on when I no longer do.
We live in a material world,
one we have received from God
and used to create the comforts of life.
It is an act of prudent faith to express out gratitude and care
by drawing up a “Last Will and Testament”
even if we are young.
What will become of our mortal remains?
Do you like me want to be brought to the Church,
to be offered to God in the context of a Requiem Mass?
Do you want to make this last witness to the Faith
that has sustained you over the years?
Do you want to offer to your loved ones this place
of comfort, this place where in such wrenching hours
they may know something of the love of God?
Then tell them.
See me and draw up the plans for what you want.
When Vivian Mitchell, a life long member
of this congregation died 2 years ago,
her family had only one decision to make.
That was to follow and carry out her written instructions.
It was a tremendous final gift of love.
She had chosen everything right down
to the music and flowers.
You see, belief in the Resurrection
is so much more then a hope.
It is a choice to act faithfully.
It is about a life of witness and an ending of witness.
On Wednesday when John Paul II is offered to God
one last time, the world will see the direction of his faith.
He will leave behind an orderly passing on
of what was his for awhile in this life.
May we each do the same in our own spheres of influence.
Let this be our tangible proclamation
of our hope in the resurrection and the life to come.
It is tangible, it is touchable, it is real.
Please sign my guestbook and view it.
Statistics courtesy of