Saturday, January 7, 2012

Final rites

It really isn’t possible to rank the degree of poignancy or intensity of the different sorts of liturgies of crisis covered in the current issue of Liturgy. However, the image, offered by Isabel “Bunny” Hughes, of the Ukrainian Holocaust survivor making his deathbed confession exposes the beating heart of the Good Word that the Church offers to a suffering world.

‘‘Do you believe, Petra, in God’s holy word? Do you believe that Jesus is the Word?What happened in your baptism, Petra, and what happens in holy communion? What will happen when you die? Who do you say that Jesus is?’’ A word or two in answer, his eyes were troubled and huge. I readied anointing oil and the communion elements and called Walter back into the room.

‘‘We stand here today, O God, as the church: Petra, Walter, pastor, and all the cloud of witnesses alive and gone before us. We know that you, our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are truly and wonderfully present. With this oil, we beg that you will open our eyes to see you, our ears to hear you, our hearts to receive your love and peace.

‘‘Are you, Petra, sorry for all your sins?’’ ‘‘I am sorry.’’ ‘‘Do you believe that your sins are forgiven by the cross of Jesus? Taken away as if they never happened?’’ Petra grabbed my hand and placed it on his forehead. He moved it to form a cross across his brow and whispered, ‘‘Forgive me all.’’ And Jesus did.

Most of the mainline denominations have developed texts and liturgies for use with the dying. Isabel “Bunny” Hughes writes of an instance in which the liturgy was extemporized in the moment. In your times of ministry with the dying, how have your managed the intersection between approved liturgies and the particularity of the situation in which you were ministering?

Rev. Isabel “Bunny” Hughes was an educator and hospice profession for many years prior to entering denominational ministry.

Isabel "Bunny" Hughes (2012): "It Is No Small Thing," Liturgy, 27:1, 38-43.

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