Good Friday Reflections from the Congregation

These reflections on Jesus’ Seven Last Word were published in the bulletin for Good Friday. We thank all the writers from our congregation who shared them: First Word: Paul Wasserman; Second Word: The Rev. Printice Roberts-Toler; Third Word: Christopher Truitt; Fourth Word: Crystal Rowe; Fifth Word: Robin Carlo; Sixth Word: Mary Meader; Seventh Word: The Rev. Val Roberts-Toler. We also thank the readers who assisted in reading these for our Good Friday Service: Abby Johnson, Don Johnson and Martha Johnson. You may view the Good Friday service on our Facebook page.

THE FIRST WORD                                 Luke 23:34                           

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

The first reflection is a poem by Paul Wasserman

Forgive them Lord for they know not what they do

How were they to know
They had never seen a God before
He did not descend from Mount Olympus
They could not see the glowing halo
His words were opaque
They listened but they did not understand
He was just another Son of David
They could not feel the depth
From where His Soul emerged
It was a place unknown for thousands of years
The world could not contain this Spirit
So on this day the Heavens opened
And in that moment
A great and invisible Light
Surrounded the world
He was already growing away from us
Returning to His Father
He became the fountain
He became the fountainhead
He left without anger
He left without sadness or regret
He pleaded at the end
He understood their ignorance
He was transformed
He became Pure Spirit
Pure Compasion
And Pure Love


THE SECOND WORD                             Luke 23:43                                         

One of the criminals said to him: “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” “He replied, “Truly I tell you, this day you will be with me in paradise.”

The second reflection is written by The Rev. Printice Roberts-Toler.

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” – Luke 23:43

Some things are hard to talk about. Jesus’ death on the cross is one of them. Words

seem too glib, too rational, and insufficiently sublime to speak of this brutal event which is a central part of our faith. However, these words from the cross are filled with hope and assurance.

Jesus directs His words to the criminal on his side, who has just confessed that he was deserving of his fate, and in an expression of faith asks, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” There was only God’s mercy and grace to be trusted here. That was all that was needed. I rely on that.

Further, Jesus gave him a promise of something wonderful, but frankly, we cannot know exactly what Paradise is like. But doesn’t the man go from utter suffering, and a life wasted, to peace and comfort and wholeness, and….all that paradise means.

Most important, it is not an isolated waiting room to get into heaven, but it is graced by Jesus’ presence. “You will be with me.” What greater comfort to not only be with the one who has eternity in His power, but is the one “Who loved us and gave himself for us.”

Some things are hard to talk about. When I talk about my own dying, my children will have none of it. When you get to my age it is something that is hard to ignore. Now in the presence of a virus that could well be lethal to someone like me, it is inescapable. I wish I could give my children more comfort. Val has suggested I write them a letter.

I want to tell them I am okay with dying. Ever since my college days when I put aside my personal goals to serve the Lord, I have counted on the assurance that someday I would be “with Him in Paradise.” I believe that promise. That’s all I need.

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THE THIRD WORD                                           John 19 26:27                          

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son. Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”

The third reflection is by Christopher Truitt.                        

We think of Him:

that day,

on the cross.

His agony.


while darkness spread

across the world.

Think of her, as well,

standing at his feet

— her pain, like his,


when he called to her:

woman, see your son!

Then, deeper dread

touched the heart,

shadow of a prophecy:

When he was yet a boy

they had presented him

before the priests

and she had heard:

a sword shall pierce your soul.

Now, even priests abandoned him,

accused him of some travesty

that he was never party to…

O Mary!

She had watched him

play the games that children will,

fed him breakfast every day,

clothed his tender body,

made him ready for the world;

then, later followed him

along a troubled path

when he began his ministry.

Now, she was disciple

to her tortured Lord,

yet stayed his mother still,

desired to dress, with balm,                   

those open wounds.

O, this trial of motherhood!

this rending of the cloth

of love for God

and love for child.

See how

Jesus looked across

the mist of death,

found her standing by the side

of his beloved friend.

Man, behold your mother

he commanded at the last

because of what she gave to him,

would give to all his church:

a love that never fails

for those who bear his life

from womb to grave.

THE FOURTH WORD                              Matthew 27:46                                 

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli lema sabachthani?”That is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The fourth reflection is by Crystal Rowe.

As I write this, we’re on the third day of cold, rainy, dreary weather. As if it’s not enough to have the world on lockdown, now I can’t even enjoy the yard and woods that surround my house. More than once over the last week have I thought these same words … “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Why does it feel like the world is caving in?

Why don’t you do something to stop it?

Why can’t you use your powers to push evil away?

Why can’t you just give us a few weeks of sunshine to help us pull through this awful, unbelievable time we’re leaving in?

As I reflect on my own situation, as I reflect on this weird time we find ourselves living right now, I’m drawn to the image of Mary at the foot of the cross. Can you imagine what it must have felt like to see your son, dying in your midst, and knowing there was absolutely nothing you could do to prevent it, or to even make it a little more palatable?

I think about those overwhelmed healthcare workers on the front lines, in overwhelmed hospitals, and the gut-wrenching decisions they are having to make. The ones who have to sit by and watch people die, knowing there’s nothing they can do to ease their pain, and the pain of those who love them.

Maybe you, like me, have had those times over the last few weeks where you’ve just felt helpless. I’ve always understood living out faith as a call to action … a call to DO something to make life easier for those who find themselves in tough places. A call to be present with those who find themselves struggling. And yet here we are, in a time where the call to action is “Don’t go do anything. Don’t be present with anyone but your immediate family. Just stay home.”

It’s no wonder that we may be feeling that God is forsaking us in this strange time. It feels like everything we’ve ever learned about how to live out our faith is being challenged right now. Like Jesus on the cross, we’re wondering why God doesn’t just reach out and DO something. Why doesn’t good prevail over evil?

Isn’t that the real struggle with Good Friday? It’s a truly painful day. A day when we see this Jesus that we have grown to know and love hanging on a cross, because of nothing other than his Goodness. A day when we get a glimpse of his own inner struggle, his own pain, his own anger that evil wins this match.

Of course, we know the end to the story – we know that Good prevails. That God prevails. We know God does reach out and act – and that moment is even more glorious than the one that we long for.

And because I know the end of the story, I can feel comforted by the fact that even Jesus wondered why he had been forsaken. I can feel comforted by his pain and uncertainty. Comforted by his willingness to die – alone – on the cross, so that he had a full and complete experience of what it means to be truly human.

On this Good Friday like no other we’ve lived before, Jesus is not simply present with us, but he is here, living it with us. Today, as we remember him dying on the cross, as we remember his crying out to God, may we feel comforted in our own cries of mourning and anger.


THE FIFTH WORD                        John 19: 28                                                   

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said, (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.”

This reflection is by Robin Carlo

I am thirsty, says Jesus.  Jesus is thirsty?  Jesus, who just a few weeks ago on the third Sunday of Lent, offered living water to the woman at the well, is thirsty?  What happened to “those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life,”?  John 4:14 appears to promise not only an end to all thirst, but the gift of eternal life.  Yet now, the purveyor of endlessly quenching water is professing thirst and is moments from death. How can this be?

Perhaps the answer is found in the previous utterance.  Within the seven last words of Christ, “I am thirsty” is rightly sandwiched between “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” and “It is finished”.   When Jesus cries out in thirst, he is, or at least he feels, forsaken by God. No longer connected to the source of living water and eternal life, Jesus is thirsty and dying. The vinegar he is offered cannot quench his thirst, and neither could a bottle of Gatorade or a cup of well water.  As it was for the woman at the well, and as it is for each of us, only living water will satisfy our thirst.  The good news is (and where there is Jesus there is always good news), the “spring of water gushing up to eternal life” is our Easter gift from God who loves us always and all ways.

THE SIXTH WORD                                   John 19: 30                                       

So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said “It is finished.”

This reflection is by Mary Meader.

      As I sat down to write a few thoughts on this Good Friday…. a Good Friday unlike no other in memory, my thoughts and ponderings deepened.  I resisted, as I always do, spending much time on  this part of the Holy Week observance…. this most central symbol of our faith tradition…the persecution and crucifixion of Jesus.   I so much prefer the joyous Easter rituals as emblematic of my Christian Faith believing as St. Augustine suggests that “We Christians are Easter people and Alleluia is our song.  Yes, I am most comfortable there, but Good Friday I continue to resist.  And yet I know that Easter and Good Friday are but two pieces of a whole.  That one cannot exist without the other.

     And so here we are at the cross. Once more.  But I still have my old familiar Holy Week questions though now with a deepened, sobering imperative and relevance given our strange and disorienting times.:  What is it all about?   How will this strange time of struggle end?  Why the crucifixion? How did Jesus endure his pain and struggle?  How do we endure the fear and uncertainty …? our daily focus on death numbers?  My questions are the same but now they have a new urgency, a deeper relevance about them. ”  

 We have before us is a graphic image of Jesus hanging on the cross in full humanity praying… I imagine even begging,.. for deliverance, for it all to be over.  And then in a willing acceptance, a final letting go, surrendering to his sacrifice…he whispers or maybe even cries out…we don’t know…”IT IS FINISHED”.   I wonder what he was thinking, and who heard him.   What was he feeling?

      I imagine also crowds of people watching the unfolding spectacle of executions…watching perhaps in horror, or disbelief, in confusion or weeping in grief and despair or maybe just plain curiosity, simply standing by uncomprehending and detached.   The image before us is one central to our faith for it precedes Easter…In my Holy Week ponderings, I return over and over to how I might  better bear witness to Jesus’ life and death in my own living and dying?

    Jesus spent all his time with us teaching us about love, about how to love, about just actions and right relationships, about what to love, how to love and the way to live.  Was he thinking about Love, I wonder?  Was he wondering if they understood and would they carry his love with them? Was he thinking about all those souls he loved and who loved him?  Perhaps as one of my beloved mentors once suggested in a Good Friday homily, he was looking out at all the people watching and saying to himself and perhaps to his Father/God…I have loved you all   as much as I could and I have taught you all that I know, all that my Father has taught me and now I am done, ‘It is finished” Love one another as I have loved you.  

   And so, I wonder where in my Good Friday imagining do I stand?   I cannot just be an Easter person because I am comfortable there or because it is easy; I must also be standing and watching on Good Friday remembering that Jesus taught us  how it is that pain and struggle comes before the new is born, before we are given the Good News. How…even in the midst of pain and struggle we need to trust in the Love that endures. 

Lord, Jesus Christ,

as we kneel at the foot of your cross,

help us to see and know your love for us,

so that we may place at your feet

all that we have and are.

Amen. (NZPB)

THE SEVENTH WORD                             Luke 23:46                                        

Then Jesus, crying out  with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.

This reflection is by The Rev. Val Roberts-Toler

It feels nearly impossible to face the suffering of Jesus in this moment. It is no surprise that Holy Week services are never as well attended as is the Easter service. We want to look away from such suffering.

   Yet, living in this time of ‘social isolation,’ we have been stripped of our usual distractions. We have been forced to face our own mortality. On this Good Friday 2020, there is no looking away from the suffering of Jesus or our own.     

    Jesus was betrayed, and brutally crucified. Yet despite it all, Jesus was able to utter these words, “Into your hands I commend, my spirit.” Other translations put it this way: ”Into your hands I entrust my life,” or “Father, I put my life in your hands.”

          I believe that in, the only way we can face our final days in peace, is by entrusting God with our lives every single day.   As I place my life, and the lives of those I love, in God’s hands I am following the example of Jesus. He has gone before us in all things. 

   When I am able to do this, I am able to face and release my fears and doubts for this life and the next. Pastor Erwin Lutze wrote, “We will meet Him there, because we have met him here.”

    On this Good Friday, let this last verse of the hymn, “Abide with Me,” become our prayer:

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.


The Rev. Val Roberts-Toler’s Sermon of January 19th, 2020

Several of you have asked for the Rev. Val Roberts-Toler’s sermon of January 19th. We welcome Val to the pulpit. She and her husband The Rev. Printice Roberts-Toler are both retired United Methodist pastors, and have been attending St. Paul for the last few months. In this sermon, Val preaches about discipleship and her experience in coming to this congregation.

It is the Patriot’s fault. Every Sunday afternoon when they are playing, my husband the avid fan, is sure to be watching. I am not a fan of football. But we have a good deal. He watches and I go wandering. I go off to the beach or to a movie or to hear a speaker or to listen to live music.

That is how I ended up at Jalapeno’s, a Mexican restaurant in Gloucester that Sunday afternoon listening to Celtic music. And that is when Michael O’Leary and I got to talking.  It was Michael who suggested this church and this pastor. And that is how we ended up here. We came that next Sunday and we never left!

“What are you looking for?”(vs38) Asks Jesus, of those first two disciples who had first followed John and who then began to follow Him.

I believe that what the disciples were searching for, what we were looking for and what so many people all around us are searching for are the same.  Augustine captured this best when he prayed, “You have made us for yourself, Oh God, and our hearts are restless until we rest in Thee.”

Our search for a church was a search for the Beloved Community. Pastor Anne referred to that in your wonderful directory, as “a community of repentance, a community of remembrance, a community of hope, love, revelation, and justice.” We are not meant to journey after Jesus alone, we need each other.

Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth celebrates the faithfulness of that particular community. It reminds us that we are called into fellowship.  “God is faithful; by Him you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (vs9) Paul says that this is a community filled with grace. It is a community that is not lacking in spiritual gifts.

And so on this Sunday before your annual meeting. I want to offer my own epistle by celebrating this community, your spiritual gifts, and the grace which we are experiencing here. And in the end, I also want to issue a challenge.

I know that you treasure this church, but sometimes it is a good thing to hear the perspective of an outsider.  I want you to know how amazing this church is. And while I am brand new to this church, I do know a lot about churches having served seven of them. And so “to the church of God called St. Paul’s grace to you and peace…”

So often I can sense the connection Pastor Anne has with all of you.  To a person people have shared how much you love and appreciate your pastor. The fact that Pastor Anne has been here for so many years is really such a strength.

You also love one another. And that is a beautiful thing and it is pleasing to God! (not always true)

The liturgy and the music and the sacrament are all powerful for us. I often keep my bulletin so I can read over the prayers.  I find myself humming the hymns. (Wade in the Water) (Postlude PTTLTA)Each word preached or prayed, sung or spoken speaks to both of us.

You had the vision to grow this church through investing in family ministries, and you stepped out in faith and then God sent Robin along.  She is brilliant. Every church needs a Robin.

 You are a church that welcomes people to get involved and to share their gifts. Rejoice that Abbey’s ministry has been nurtured here. Every person whose life she will touch, and there will be many, are the fruit of your ministry.

Your concern about caring for the environment is especially important as, we live surrounded by the stunning ocean, which so needs our care. You are reaching out to the hungry and to the homeless after the manner of Jesus.

Your stewardship is fantastic. Having a fully pledged budget is rare and it says so much about how truly invested each of you are in this ministry. Too many churches are living off of endowment funds.

Just as Isaiah talks about Israel as a light for the nations. So I believe that this ministry is a light for the Northshore and beyond. You have much to celebrate as you look back at 2019 but as you look ahead to 2020 and beyond, I want to challenge all of us.

As the people of God we are called to be a people on the move. In a bad news world we simply cannot keep the Good News of the Gospel to ourselves.  And especially on this weekend when we celebrate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy we are reminded that we always need to be asking the question—who is missing? Who is missing from the table?

Neither John nor Andrew could keep the news of Jesus to themselves. They just couldn’t. I don’t think that Michael O’Leary considers himself an Andrew, who went to bring Peter to Jesus but that is who Michael was to me that afternoon. Michael spoke up—will we speak up?

With the Psalmist may we faithfully be able to say, “God has put a new song in our hearts… Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord…We have not hidden your saving help within our hearts, we have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; we have not concealed your steadfast love and faithfulness from the great congregation.”

So who is it in your circle, that you work with, live near, go to school with who is restless and filled with longing to meet the living God and longing to belong to a caring community? Who might be sitting next to YOU at Jalapeno’s?!

Having served UMC churches for decades, you might wonder why we drive right by one to come here.  When recent legislation has limited the full participation of the LGBQT community, we could no longer support our denomination. It was a deal breaker for us, as it is for so many, especially for our young people.

 I so appreciate your mission statement, from the church council, “we are a community that strives to follow the message of Jesus’ unconditional inclusion…we welcome all persons, all ages, all ages, genders, sexual orientations ,races and faiths..

 Yet because the LGBQT community has been wounded by the church at large, I believe we have to be very intentional about advertising our welcome. As a pastor friend once said, “We have to let them know that the electricity in the fence has been turned off!” That this is a safe place. How might we do this?

I am working with Young Life.  (A+R) Of the six churches we visited there very few young people. So YL goes to where the kids are. I believe that young people are literally dying to know Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life. I believe they need us, the beloved community. In my last church, about this size, there were 7 kids who were hospitalized for depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Through YL I have met several immigrants. One young man grew up in a refugee camp in Uganda. He and I have become friends. Recently I was helping find him a used car—his first car.

 It was eye opening to me to see how difficult it is to navigate the system of buying, insuring, and registering a car. This process was totally foreign to him. And again on this MLK weekend, I have to say, I was painfully aware of white privilege… I have to wonder if he would have been treated as well if I had not been present. Gloucester is filled with refugees who are far from home and who need the Lord, “who is our dwelling place for all generations” and who long for community

Will we dare to say to them, “Come and See.”

The temptation is to guard what we have to want to protect it. None of us likes change. And I confess that, already, I find myself thinking what if we grow too much, will we need two services. Will there be enough parking? Not to make you nervous, but…church growth experts tell us that once a church is 80% full—we have to start looking ahead…

 Let me close first by thanking Pastor Anne for trusting me with this pulpit, and then you for this ministry and for your faithful service to God that has created this place.

And finally with the words of our next hymn. “I come with joy to meet the Lord, the love that made us, makes us one, and strangers now our friends, and strangers now are friends…Together met, together bound by all that God has done we’ll go with joy to give the world, the love that makes us one.”


The Rev. Val Roberts-Toler

Refugee Sunday Sermon–The Rev. Alice Erickson

On February 19th, 2017–we held a Refugee Sunday at St. Paul Lutheran Church. The Rev. Alice Erickson, a local pastor with long experience in refugee and immigration work preached a marvelous sermon. Here it is! Refugee Sunday Rev Erickson Sermon

During the weeks since, we have sponsored a collection of needed items for NuDay Syria, along with other faith communities on the North Shore. This was successful thanks to the tireless efforts of member Kimberlee Cloutier-Blazzard, and all the members and friends who donated.

For more information, see the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service for ideas about how to take action, and support the lives of refugees.

Advent Week 1

We were blessed, as we began the First Week of Advent, to receive three new members to St. Paul Lutheran Church. During the sermon, the three of them offered their reasons for wanting to be a part of this community. The homily addresses the theme of “arriving” in Advent. We give thanks for those who have “arrived” among us, through the mysterious workings of the Holy Spirit. You can hear the homily and our new members’ comments below.

Sermon from Sept.25th

This is a teaching on true contentment. It comes from knowing who we are, and the Lord we follow. I never thought of Jesus as particularly content, at least as I understood contentment. But, then, considering the question in relationship to the prophetic voice of Amos, Psalm 146, Paul’s teaching to Timothy, and Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, contentment becomes something like contemplation in action, or prayer in action, or faith active in love, simultaneously resting in God, and active in love of justice and mercy in the world. The whole message is in the old spiritual, “Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.” God’s love is so high we can’t get over it, and so low, we can’t get under it.

Calumet Sojourn

St. Paul Lutheran Church has long enjoyed a solid relationship with our Lutheran outdoor ministry, Camp Calumet, in Freedom New Hampshire. As one of the pastors in our Synod, I had the opportunity recently to be a chaplain and a co-leader for a Camp Calumet Lutherhostel in Freedom, New Hampshire, called “Let There Be Light.” The other leader was my good friend, Dr. Kevin Luhmen, an astrophysics professor at Penn State. He has occasionally attended St. Paul when he’s in the area, so some of the congregation know him. Kevin and I have been friends for many years, and our conversations often revolve around theology and science. We decided to see if we could offer a program at Calumet and Judy Hakanson Smith, of Calumet, helped us put it together. Our goal was simple: we wanted to put the most recent research with regard to the beginnings of the universe, time, star formation, life on earth, in conversation with faith. Naturally, in such a conversation, climate change also became part of our discussion, especially as we considered the history of the evolution of seas and the emergence of life on earth.

Kevin and I were delighted by the participation, the questions, the theological musings, and the wonderful program. Among our participants were another astronomer and geologist, a chemist, a mechanical engineer, and an oceanographer; all of us were people of faith. The ancient quest at the heart of theological inquiry, “faith seeking understanding,” was alive and well in our midst. I would say, for me, the four days circled around wonder at the astonishing creativity of God, the beauty, complexity, and sheer vastness of creation, and the preciousness and rarity of life. We came away with a sense of Earth’s unique beauty and possibility, with a renewed desire to protect and love this planet.

You can find out more here14195951_10154534677125719_4479925266429806431_o

Sermon-Sept. 4, 2016

This morning, we returned to our 10:00 a.m. hour. Remy and Zoe Blazzard opened the service with a Prelude on violin and cello, and a quartet of men from the choir sang for the Psalm, today. Eva DiLascio led us in worship on the piano. It was beautiful outside, with the wind just starting to pick up from the remnants of a tropical storm. Inside, we were filled with the sweetness of the Spirit. Here’s the sermon for this week.

Guest Preacher: Dr. Pam Shellberg

Below is a sermon preached recently by Dr. Pamela Shellberg. Dr. Shellberg has been attending St. Paul for a couple of years, as her travels allow. She is a New Testament scholar, and has taught at Bangor Theological Seminary, in Maine, and Andover Newton Seminary, here in Massachusetts. She is now the Scholar-in-Residence for the BTS Center in Portland. From their webpage: “The BTS Center is a think tank that sponsors educational events, projects, and research inquiries in the fields of religion, spirituality, practical theology, and ministry. Through thought leadership and vocational development initiatives, The BTS Center equips and supports faith leaders for theologically grounded, effective leadership in 21st-century communities of faith and practice.”

You can read one of her blogs here.

Here is the sermon she preached on May 22, 2016. It’s in two parts.
Part I

and Part II

Easter V: What wondrous love…

From Sunday, April 24th: For the fifth Sunday of Easter, the Gospel reading from John 13 takes us back to the night before Jesus’ death. Here, Jesus gives the disciples the commandment to love one another. We often don’t get it right, that loving. Yet, we are called and commanded to it. The good news: we’re not alone with this, for where love is, there God is. “Ubi caritas et amor,” sings the church, “Deus ibi est” A translation from our hymnal: “Where true charity and love abide, God is dwelling there”(ELW 642).