Saturday, April 3, 2010

Third Last Word

Fair Street Reformed Church, Good Friday Service, 4.2.10

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing behind her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

These words are heart-wrenching. Here is Jesus, in the fullness of his agony, acknowledging his imminent death by entrusting his dearest friend, the beloved disciple, to his mother and his mother to this friend. Every piece of physical evidence points to his approaching death: his mother will lose her son and John will lose his teacher. Ever the dutiful son, ever the Good Shepherd who cares for his own, Jesus provides for each, giving Mary a protector and John one who can nurture. There are two other Marys as well near the foot of the cross, but it is to these two special ones in the crowd that Jesus speaks. These two who might be most devastated by what is happening are right there, where each of their senses is assailed by the gasping of breath, the sweat, the blood, and the immediate presence of unbearable pain. They didn’t choose “to remember him as he was.” They are there with him. Every ounce of their love and loyalty keep them close to watch and to witness. After that, the time moves with merciful quickness. Jesus asks for wine, and then it is finished.

But if Mary and John are devastated by the crucifixion, they must also be devastated by what this means for the ministry of the one they call Lord and the ministry to which they have committed their lives and the safety of their lives. Jesus has promised them joy and a comforter, but at the moment the future must seem pretty dark, a time in which new mother and new son must cling together, doing the best they can with teachings and memories.

John, the witness to these things, will neither forget them nor allow us to. He will realize and urge us to realize the deeper importance of what Jesus is entrusting to him and to Mary. Even at the moment of his physical death, Jesus’ love embodies the depths of his teaching, a new teaching that must affect every one of us, even here, even now. The disciple honors this by the formal way he records Jesus’ words: Here is your son, here is your mother.

The community that Jesus has gathered around him might seem to be in disarray, but in Jesus’ simple, profound statements directed to these two, he is connecting—for them and for us—even this terrible moment on the cross to all of his previous teachings. In this Gospel we see Mary only one other time, at the first miracle at the wedding in Cana. And John was last seen asking about the betrayer of his Lord and will be the first to look into the empty tomb.

Furthermore, Jesus is preparing John and Mary for a new community, the community we heard about from John last night, at the Maundy Thursday service. Family is no longer a matter of blood kin. Family is a community of serving and of love. As one kind of son and teacher seems to be dying, Jesus creates a life that connects each of us in comfort and hope, even when grief seems to be the victor.

We are heirs to this family, this family that is totally inclusive, totally forgiving, and filled with miraculous connections waiting for discovery. As we come today to the cross, with our own heavinesses and our fully legitimate fears for tomorrow, may we embrace this double gift: nurturing and protection within an ever widening community. In fact the gift is a directive and it is fourfold: In his third last word, our Lord empowers us to nurture and protect all those whom we meet, as well as to seek those blessings from him.

Dear Lord, may we be worthy. Amen.

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