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Yakima Valley faith leaders reflect on Good Friday and Easter

UPDATED: Sun., April 17, 2022

By Joel Donofrio Yakima Herald-Republic

YAKIMA - Easter is a joyous event on the Christian calendar, a day when believers celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the promise of new life it offers.

But before the New Testament of the Bible describes Christ’s empty tomb, there is the painful retelling of Jesus’ crucifixion and death at the hands of government and religious authorities. Most churches remember these events on Good Friday, and for the first time in two years, the Yakima Association of Faith Communities held a community worship service on Friday, April 15.

The ecumenical event, held at St. Joseph Catholic Church in downtown Yakima, included reflections on seven of Jesus’ final words during the crucifixion, as recorded in the Gospels of Mark, Luke and John. The Rev. David Hacker of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church opened and closed the service, and seven pastors, priests and ministers spoke on Christ’s final words.

Tausha Stapleton of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encouraged attendees to draw inspiration from Jesus forgiving those who tortured, mocked and denounced him during the crucifixion.

“‘Father, forgive them’ is certainly an unmatched prayer of forgiveness and love,” she said. “The whole world has the need for this forgiveness.”

Along those lines, the Rev. David Helseth of Englewood Christian Church recalled the penitent thief in Luke’s Gospel, who asks Jesus, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

The retired pastor noted that Christ reached out and provided healing, forgiveness and grace to all types of people in the Bible: women and men, Jews and non-Jews, society’s leaders and its outcasts.

“From the opening words of his ministry to his final words on the cross … Jesus engaged with people where they were, regardless of who they were,” Helseth said.

The Rev. Bill Altenhein, the longtime pastor of Royal City United Methodist Church, focused on Christ’s words to his mother, Mary, and his “favorite disciple,” John, during the crucifixion, as recounted in John’s Gospel.

“Jesus was telling them to take care of each other,” Altenhein said. “It amazes me that while Jesus was in such enormous pain and suffering, he thought of others.”

The fourth word examined during the service was “forsaken,” recalling Mark 15:34 where Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is the beginning of Psalm 22, said the Rev. Scott Klepach of Yakima’s Wesley United Methodist Church.

Noting that many of us wonder and question the “Godforsaken” times and places in our lives, Klepach said Jesus’ humanity was on full display when he said those words, but also his divinity, as the entirety of Psalm 22 moves from despair to deliverance.

Msgr. John Ecker of St. Paul Cathedral, taking a break from his organ-playing duties during the service, then reflected on Christ’s words, “I am thirsty,” uttered not long before he died and recorded in John’s Gospel.

“It wasn’t just a human thirst he was speaking about,” Ecker said. “He was talking about thirsting for justice, thirsting for peace in this world.”

Ecker noted this thirst remains unquenched to this day, as violence and suffering are present from war-torn nations such as Ukraine to cities and towns such as Yakima. “There’s a need and thirst for peace, justice and mercy,” he added.

Immediately after the “I am thirsty” portion of John 19, Jesus drinks the wine and remarks, “It is finished,” said the Rev. Richard Burson of First Baptist Church in Wapato.

Besides meaning the end of his ministry and life on Earth, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross also meant the end of the Passover ritual sacrifice of a lamb, using its blood to forgive sins for the next year, Burson said.

“I stand before you a forgiven sinner because of what Jesus did on the cross,” he added. “It was the ultimate demonstration of love and forgiveness.”

Finally, the Rev. Robert Trimble, retired pastor of Mount Hope Baptist Church, discussed Christ’s powerful final words, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” said the moment before he died on the cross.

These words from Luke 23 reinforce the father-son relationship between Jesus and his heavenly father and point to the hope of Easter — that our soul has a place in heaven with the Lord, Trimble said.

“We have a home, we have another place, that is not built by these human hands, but in heaven by our father,” he added.

The service concluded with the 70 people in attendance singing the traditional hymn “The Old Rugged Cross,” reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and receiving a short benediction from Hacker before exiting in silence.

Also during the service, a collection was taken for the Yakima Rotary Food Bank, which Hacker said serves 600 people every Friday by giving them a box of groceries.

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