Many of you heard about the awful tragedy in our church community last week. The day after the funeral on Monday, I sent the following to our staff:
Hi to all,
Thank you to everyone who helped serve Ashley Cimino’s funeral, which as you can imagine, was filled with high emotion, as Ashley’s family and friends arrived, and her mother especially was understandably inconsolable. As Steve Kluge said in his homily “we have no words.” What to say at something like this? What to say in the face of a young woman murdered by her husband, of two young children left orphaned, of two families who cannot speak to each other? This is where a community of faith – this community of faith at St. Francis – lives out its identity.
On the day of the funeral, we were the place where, in light of the unspeakable and unfathomable, we opened our doors. In the empty church before the liturgy began, light shined in from a warm sun in a blue sky. We lit candles. We put out bread and wine. We brought out a funeral pall to cover the casket – a white pall which is the color of a baptismal garment and the color of Easter vestments and which speaks of light and hope in the face of death. We sprinkled water on the casket: water which reminds us of our baptism, water which is something we learned while studying theology is a “multivalent” symbol – multiple meanings, water which we need for life, and water also that can take life. We are baptized into the life – and death – of Jesus. We are baptized into a beautiful world. We are baptized into a troubled world. We prepared incense, “let my prayers rise like incense before you…”
We stood quietly in the gathering space before and after the mass, nametags on, watching, guiding people where to go, simply being present to a family without moorings right now. We were communion ministers, ushers, lectors, greeters, cantors, musicians, preachers, sacristans, lighters-of-incense; we were there – no answers, no reasons why, mostly in silence and prayer, and in that silence and prayer, a giving over, an understanding that something like this is too much for anyone to hold on their own, and that the only way is to hand it to a loving and compassionate God. And that is what this community, in its sorrow, its questions, its not-knowing, did yesterday – respond by presence, by love, by accompaniment to a family that is in deep mourning and shock.
Steve Kluge in his homily said that, in Ashley’s awful final moments, Christ was with her, he who knew the cross, who knew abandonment, fear, was there with her. It’s the cross not as some long-ago event that happened to Jesus only, but the cross as still-existent, the cross as looming close in our lives whenever we, or anyone we know, is in any kind of impossible, God-less seeming moment, whenever the power of death seems certain and final. That was Calvary for Jesus, “my God, my God why have you abandoned me?” Such a cry. That cry is from Psalm 22, and of course as an observant Jew Jesus knew the psalms. The psalm gives voice to abandonment and meaninglessness.
And yet further on in that same psalm, “in you our fathers trusted, they trusted, and you delivered them…to you they cried and were rescued.” Jesus on the cross must have held to that. In the midst of deep loss and abandonment, a trust and faith that we are never alone, that God will deliver us, even in the silence and unknowing. And there lies our hope, and there lies who we are as a church – a place to hold the sorrow and loss, to give voice to it all, and a place where we believe that God’s power for resurrection, even amid pain and loss, is more powerful than death. We hold to that.
Thanks again to all for being church in such a moment,
Peace and good,
Fr. Steve Patti