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Celebrate the risen Lord this Easter

It has been more than 30 years since I completed the Clinical Pastoral Education course at Providence Hospital in Oakland, Calif. Providence is a Catholic Hospital and the supervisor of the pastoral care department and of the CPE program was Father Milt Eggerling. I will never forget that summer. It included 400 hours of instruction and mentoring in the art of simply “being with souls” in their darkest hours. We learned how to listen actively, that is to listen at a new level of discernment that heard more than the words being said, but the feelings being expressed. One night I was called to the room of a cancer patient that was Jewish. He didn’t care that I was Christian, he just needed to talk. So talk we did, or rather he talked while I listened. I listened to his story of growing up in a very poor village in Europe. When the soldiers came one night to collect his family, a neighbor took him and his sister and hid them in their cellar. He never saw his parents again. Now he was dying and his family was coming from far away to mourn and to recite the Kaddish, the traditional prayer for the dead. He had mixed feelings about being the one receiving the prayer he had given so many times over the decades since his childhood. It was a bitter sweet moment at his bedside at four in the morning. He asked if I would recite the prayer and we did so together; he in Hebrew, I in English. Shortly thereafter his soul returned to the God that had granted it life and I sat in the dim light of his hospital lamplight, somehow lifted by his gentle and gracious spirit. Later that morning Father Eggerling asked me to speak at morning Mass. It was 11 a.m. and we all celebrated Mass in the hospital chapel. Two traditions: one Jewish the other Catholic, experienced by one who has benefited from both and yet does not participate in either. As a Protestant Chaplain it was my privilege to be in the presence of tradition.

Easter is the center piece of our Christian tradition. It is but a moment in time to remember and celebrate our Risen Lord. Yet Easter begs to invade us beyond the day’s joyous hymns and message of Resurrection. It asks us to prepare with a week that begins with Palm Sunday and includes many of the stories of Jesus’ life leading up to his “giving himself up for us.” So I invite you to remember your heritage and seek ways to participate in this week of preparation. Don’t let Easter surprise you with its arrival. Rather let it inspire you with its message of love and grace. Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed! Where will you be on the morning of March 31, 2013?

Pastor Pete Nelson of Carson Valley United Methodist Church is a member of Carson Valley Ministers’ Association.