The Miracle of Reconciliation– Two Memories of Good Friday

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MY M0THER AND THE THREE MARYS

I remember my mother’s tears on this day, Good Friday, and wondering why she was so sad. Jesus had been crucified a long, long time ago. It wasn’t happening now. But, to Mom, it was. Like the three Mary’s at the foot of the crosses, Mom was weeping in her pew. I remember the white handkerchief dabbing the cornerS of her eyes.

I was five or six years old the first time I saw Mom at the foot of the cross with the three Marys. The Marys were all gone. Only Mom and her white handkerchief continued the vigil, and it happened every year on Good Friday. It was in junior high school that I began to get under the tears and weep them for myself. I “got” the cruelty of it.

The pounding of nails into wrists and feet. The soldiers laughing at him while they gambled for his clothes. If they were gambling for his clothes, was Jesus naked in front of the whole world? Was the crown of thorns the only thing he wore? Were the thorns cutting into his head? “I thirst.” They give him vinegar on the end of stick! He looks down at John. “Behold your mother; woman, behold your son.” Take my mother home! Mary doesn’t go home. She stays by him until the end. She winces at the nightmare she cannot end: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabstachtani?” (My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?), watches as a soldier puts a hole in his side; weeps inconsolably when it is finished, and they take him away.

How could Mom not cry hearing that? How could anyone not reach for a handkerchief?

“GOD WAS IN CHRIST, RECONCILING THE WORLD TO HIMSELF”

Years later, Ken and Ilse Beaufoy and I observed Good Friday in the pews of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church. Aside from one or two others who dropped by for a short time each year, we were alone in the church. Beginning at noon, at half hour intervals, we read aloud a portion of the Passion narratives paused in silence, listened to the corresponding movement from Rutter’s Requiem, spoke a brief prayer, and sat in the silence until the next half hour.

The Good Fridays with Ken (and Ilse, before she died) were unique. An American Presbyterian minister with a married couple, Ken a former Biitish soldier, and Ilse, a former member of the Luftwaffe, one of only two women awarded the Iron Cross. Ken and Ilse met at a dance sponsored by the occupying forces following WW II. Ilse was one of two women Luftwaffe soldiers awarded the Iron Cross for standing her post during the Allied bombing of Hamburg.

Despite objections and death threats from family members, Ken and Ilse committed themselves to the bonds of marriage. What else but the reconciling love of God could bridge the gulf of former enemy combatants? Five decades later, Ilse died moments after hearing the words of permission that would only have meaning to a decorated war hero who had stayed at her anti-aircraft post atop the Hamburg bunker to protect the civilians below. “You no longer need to stand your post. You no longer need to fight. It’s time to go home. Go in peace.” From that day on, there were just the two of us staying by the cross from noon to 3:00 on Good Friday.

Rutter’s “Pie Jesu” did not explain the crucifixion or the peace it brought Ken and Ilse Beaufoy. It didn’t need to. Some things cannot be explained. They can only be lived…with thanksgiving for abounding grace while dabbing the corner of your eyes with a handkerchief.

— Gordon C. Stewart by the wilderness, Minnesota, Good Friday, April 19, 2019

A memory of Ken

The first Good Friday following retirement from active ministry is filled with the memory of a friend named Ken.

On Good Fridays from 2006 through 2013 Ken Beaufoy was the one member of the congregation I could count on to be with me in the Chapel from noon to 3:00 p.m. There were years when there were three or four. But most Good Fridays, it was just the two of us.

The pattern for the three-hours was very simple. Each half-hour began with a reading from the passion narratives of Gospels. A five minute silence followed, ending with a movement from Gabriel Faure’s Requiem. A brief prayer was spoken aloud. Another contemplative silence ended the half-hour segment.

There were times when I looked at Ken and felt as though I knew him the way his beloved wife, Ilse, had known him. Isle had been the third person in the pews before her death in 2007. Ken and Ilse were like no other couple I’d ever known and not only because theirs was the most unlikely of loves. Ken, a British soldier during the occupation of German following the end of World War II, and Ilse, a German soldier decorated with the German Silver Cross for bravery, fell in love during the occupation and made a life together against all odds. Their marriage was a sign of the power of reconciling forgiveness and love.

Two people never adored each other more than Ken and Ilse. During Ilse’s demise, when hope was scarce and hard decisions were made, I saw Ken’s faith up close and personal in his Good Friday moment of saying goodbye to his Ilse. As often happens between a pastor and a congregant, we became blood brothers until Ken died quietly in his sleep.

Today I’m remembering Ken and those six half-hour segments in the Chapel. I read the readings, listen to the movements of Faure’s Requiem – Introit et Kyrie, Offertory, Sanctus, Pie Jesu, Agnus Dei et Lux aeterna, Libera me, and In Paradisum – pray the prayers, and give thanks for a communion deeper than words. It still endures.