“There are no dances for dark days.
There is no music to bellow the pain.
The best we can do is to remain still and silent
And try to remember the face of God…
And how to kneel, and how to pray.”[i]
The poet Ann Weems, whose words I just read, lost her son just an hour after his 21st birthday. As I was thinking about her when I was writing this sermon I looked her up on the internet only to find out that she herself died on March 17 of this year. Ann wrote many poems and Psalms of Lament to work her way through the grief and pain that she experienced.
This poem is a fitting start to our time together tonight too as we huddle beneath the cross. Lent is over and we have advanced through Holy Week one day at a time. We enacted the drama of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his final Passover meal with his disciples, his betrayal and arrest. And now this. His crucifixion.
Good Friday is a screeching halt in our journey. We are frozen on the path, we journey no more. Not because we want to, but because death by crucifixion immobilizes us so we don’t really know what to do except to come together on this day and acknowledge the dreadful completion of Christ’s life. It hurts to see Jesus in this way. As Ann said, “The best we can do is to remain still and silent, and try to remember the face of God…and how to kneel, and how to pray.
Although you might want to move ahead to Easter because you cannot bear the cross, it will be to your disadvantage. It will blind you to the stark reality of tonight. Jesus’ death is what we need to concentrate on and death is never easy to bear. Tonight our focus is on the cross, nothing more, nothing less.
Jesus’ story is our story. It repulses us and, at the same, it draws us in. Without it, the Christian life has little meaning. We can attach some theological lingo to it like the theology of the cross of sacrifice and expiation, of salvation and atonement and make it all work, if that’s what you want. We could wrap it up in a neat package, but if we do that, if we are to intellectualize it, then how are we to feel the profound nature and sadness of this Good Friday?
Death has to happen before new life can come. Winter has to precede spring before the crocus’ can blossom. And so here we are, at the foot of the cross some 2,000 years later, wondering and waiting, trying ‘to remember the face of God…and how to kneel, and how to pray.’
But we are not alone at the foot of Christ’s cross. We do not bear this sorrow alone. There are others with us. For in John’s Gospel he tells us that Mary, Jesus’ mother is there, so is Mary the wife of Clopas as is Mary Magdalene. The three Mary’s who lovingly attend Jesus to the end. His mother, bless her, was there at the beginning of his life, was there at the beginning of his ministry in Cana and now accompanies him through his death. It’s just what mothers do.
So with them we grieve together because that’s what people do when someone is dying. They lift one another up, they carry one another’s burdens, they help to ease the pain and suffering of loss. They console one another. I am so glad they are here with us today and that we are legacies of their witness, their compassion and their devotion to Jesus.
And the beloved disciple was there too perhaps with his arm around Mary. Jesus watches the tender but tearful exchanges between them. Jesus makes his wishes known, ‘Please beloved one, take care of my mother. And mother, here is your son.’ In this act of care and concern he sows the seeds for a new community that would eventually emerge. It is a community not of kin but of caretakers for one another. [ii] So much happened that day at the cross under a dark and threatening sky, it’s hard to fathom. And then, he gave up his spirit, he breathed his last breath on this earth and he died.
Being at the bedside of one who is dying is both incredibly sad yet oddly comforting. It is a gift that we give to one another. We speak in hushed tones, we give each other hugs, we offer Kleenex to wipe away the tears and we tell stories as we watch and wait for our loved one to take her last breath, the very last task that she will do upon this earth. If you are brave enough to witness that moment you will know that all of life is contained in that very last breath which is exhaled out.
That upon that last exhalation all of who we are, our accomplishments, our disappointments, our very being is let out as we succumb to this life and our souls ascend into the presence of God.
This week has been at the very least, troublesome with the attacks in Brussels. How far will they go? How close will they get? How much can we take? I feel as if each time another radicalized suicide bomber detonates, or another bomb explodes that I fall further into an abyss of fear and anger. Fear that it could happen anywhere at any time, to me, to one of my loved ones, and anger that I feel so helpless to prevent it. I preach love and all that I see is hate. And the sadness is overwhelming.
Yet tonight, in all of its somber tones and darkened shades lies our hope.
All of the pain and suffering of the world is acknowledged in Jesus’ pain and suffering. He bears the weight of the world’s anger, hatred, violence and greed. All of your pain and suffering is acknowledged in Jesus’ pain and suffering tonight. Whatever it is that you brought with you tonight to the cross you can lay it down.
We hurt, we cry out, we suffer and experience deep sorrow, we sin, we err, we go astray, we break covenant. We are products of our human nature and all of that we can project onto the cross of Jesus.
So when Jesus utters “it is finished” and breathes his last breath, we can say, “it is all that we can bear Lord, thank you!” Jesus’ death reminds us that the marks of humanity are bearable, the sin, the sadness, the sorrow, the suffering are bearable and that we will be able to stand at the cross with strength and with courage and faith, forgiveness and hope. This is what his death means for us. In the ancient words of the Indian poet Tagore, “Death is not extinguishing the light, but putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”
So cast your gaze intently upon the cross. Pour your heart out upon this cross tonight and know that you are in the company of the Mary’s and the beloved disciple and everyone else who has faithfully stood at the cross of Jesus and waited, and watched and tried to remember the face of God and how to kneel and how to pray.
Come now. The Sabbath is rapidly approaching; Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are preparing his body for burial now. Perhaps we can be of some help.