Beloved sisters and brothers, let us look to the Lord.May only God’s word be spoken,
May God’s word be heard.
In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.
Many of us have sat at the bedside of a dying friend or relative. Many of us here, are men and women “of sorrow, acquainted with grief.”
The Gospel reading for today, for Good Friday, brings all of us together in a deathwatch as we stand at the foot of the cross, suffer with our friend Jesus, and watch him draw his last breath. It is an opportunity for us to share in the experience and to draw strength from one another.
I’ve been a hospice chaplain for a while and I’ve been blessed to be share in the end of life with a number of amazing people and their families.
I remember a story told by a friend of one of his experiences while visiting the home of a client whose husband had just died. “I was in the kitchen,” she said. “I heard a noise from the living room, and when I went in, there he was slumped over in his chair.” Then she said again, “I was in the kitchen…”
I’ve discovered that this is a pretty common phenomenon; people tend to replay the details of a death, in part to make sure they get the story straight, but also to make sure there was nothing they should have done that they failed to do. Every year on Good Friday we replay the details of Jesus’ death for some of the same reasons; to not only make sure we get the story straight but also to find ourselves in the story and consider our own responsibility.
In the nonviolence trainings that I facilitate, one of the exercises that we do is called the Circle of Truths. It’s a pretty straightforward role play where a small group of people circles up and then takes turns standing in the shoes of various people involved in a conflict, and then reflects on, and then speaks from that point of view.
What would that look like for us here on Good Friday? What are the questions that we might ask ourselves to center ourselves into understanding different people’s point of view?
None of us would have done what Judas did, would we? Betrayed Jesus? He thought that to accomplish the revolution that it just needed a good strong push. Have we ever pushed someone because of our impatience? Is there anything of Judas in us?
None of us would have done what Peter did, would we? Promised to follow Jesus to the grave and then denied him because a silly servant girl asked a question? Who knows what we would do in a similar circumstance? Our survival instincts can be pretty strong.
None of us would have done what Caiaphas did, would we? Made the claim that “it is better for one person to die for the people?” Have we ever weighed our choices in a difficult circumstance and then chosen the lesser of two evils? Is it any less an evil, just because it’s the lesser of?
None of us would have done what Pilate did, would we? Shuttling back and forth between various parties and looking for the easy answers? How many times have we listened long past the moment when we knew what to do, just because the right thing was neither the easy thing nor the popular thing? (shrug) What can you do when the people have spoken?
And what about the points of view of the chief priests shouting “crucify him!”? or the soldiers flogging Jesus and putting a crown of thorns on his head, nailing him to a cross, gambling for his clothes, piercing his side? Of course they were just being good soldiers and Jesus might have been just another innocent, just some collateral damage.
Or Mary, standing at the foot of the cross and watching her son’s life drain away. Or the disciple which he loved standing there, and risking his life, with her? Maybe we wouldn’t be there, but then again, maybe we would. Some of us have watched someone we love draw their last breath, as painful as it is. Staying at the bedside in that last hour, risking sleep and sanity. It is not hard to imagine the one who is dying saying to a son or a sister, “Take good care of Mama.”
I’ve been at bedsides like that. I’ve sat waiting sipping bitter, black coffee from a disposable cup. I’ve been part of the deathwatch. With clients and parishioners, and with my own loved ones. We sit at the bedside. We speak in whispers. We pat each other and hug. We wipe away tears. We tell stories. Eventually we say our goodbyes.
Maybe this is where we enter into Good Friday, and maybe this is where we need to make our stand.
not betraying Jesus, not denying him, not judging him, not condemning him, not rejecting him, not mocking him, not cursing him, not flogging him, not killing him
and instead standing there at the foot of the cross, with others who love him, and putting our arms around each other for comfort and strength, so that when they ask us later what happened we can say, “I was standing at the foot of the cross...”
Thanks be to God!