Isaiah 52:13-53:12 Psalm 22:1-11 Hebrews 10:16-25 John 18:1-19:42
Many of us have been at the bedside of a dying friend or relative. When I was sitting with my brother, holding his hand, whispering memories, it was holy ground and sacred time. The readings for Good Friday bring all of us, the entire congregation together in a deathwatch as we stand at the foot of the cross, suffer with our friend Jesus, and see him draw his last breath. It is an opportunity to share the experience and to draw strength from one another.
Every year on Good Friday, we replay the details of Jesus’ death to make sure we get the story straight and also, to find ourselves in the story. None of us would have done what Judas did, would we? Betrayed Jesus? Unless we believed that he was the political Messiah we had been waiting for, and all that was needed to get the revolution going was a good strong push. Have we ever pushed someone in a similar way 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 of a silly servant girl’s question? Who knows what we would really do in that situation? Who knows how strong our survival instincts may be? Give Peter credit for wanting to be a better man than he was, for taking a swing at the high priest’s servant, for showing up in the chilly courtyard at all.
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 been guilty of political expediency? Have we ever weighed a difficult situation and chosen the lesser of two evils? Is it any less an evil, just because it is the lesser of the two?
None of us would have done what Pilate did, would we? Shuttled back and forth between Jesus and his accusers, hoping that the easy answer would appear? How many times have we listened long past the moment when we knew what to do, just because the right thing wasn’t the easy or popular thing? How many times have we taken a survey of opinions, instead of a stand? We can almost feel sorry for Pilate in this story. He wants so much to spare Jesus. However, what can you do when the people have spoken?
None of us would have done what chief priests did, would we? Shouted out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”and followed it by saying, “We have no king but the emperor.” Then, again, have we never been a part of an angry mob? Have we never called for a resignation? Have we never wished that someone who was making your life difficult would just go away? Have we ever done anything to make that happen?
None of us would have done what the soldiers did, would we? Flogged Jesus, dressed him in purple and put a crown of thorns on his head? None of us would have nailed him to the cross, or gambled for his clothes, or pierced his side, would we? Then again, good soldiers do what they are told to do every day. They get commended for it, decorated with medals. Sometimes innocent people die – they call it “collateral damage.”
None of us would have done what Mary did, would we? Stood there at the foot of the cross and watched her son’s life drain away? Or risked our lives like John, by standing there with Mary? Then again, maybe we would. Some of us have watched loved ones draw their last breath, painful as it was. Some of us have stayed by 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 have been at a number of bedsides. I have sat in hospital waiting rooms, sipping bad coffee. I have been part of the deathwatch. Most of the time, I have waited with parishioners. On a few occasions, I have waited and watched with family and friends. It is not easy sitting with someone who is near the end of their earthly journey. But it is familiar. We sit by the bed. We speak in whispers. We pat each other and hug. We wipe away tears. We tell funny and poignant stories. Eventually, we say our good-byes.
Maybe this is where we enter the Good Friday drama, and maybe this is where we need to take our stand; not betraying Jesus, nor denying Jesus, not judging him, not condemning him, not rejecting him, not mocking him, not cursing him, not flogging him, not killing him – but standing there at the foot of the cross with others that love him. We stand there, putting our arms around each other for comfort and for strength, so that when they ask us later what happened, we can say, “I was standing at the foot of the cross…..”
As we approach the end of Lent and the celebration of Easter, the one message that Jesus tells us – As I have loved you, so you must love one another. To help us on the path to loving our neighbors as ourselves, I want to offer The Four Noble Truths. The wisdom of the four truths can be found in many cultures, but I am sharing knowledge found in The Great Wheel of Life used by native people for thousands of years.
The Four Truths are:
Show up and choose to be present to all that life offers. Be a good model – by walking your talk.
Pay attention to what has heart and meaning for you and resonates within your soul.
Tell the truth without blame or judgment. Say what you mean and mean what you say or keep noble silence.
Stay open, but not attached to the outcome. Deeply care, from an objective place. Break old patterns. Practice discernment.
If we did nothing else in following Jesus’ teachings than to adopt and live these truths, our lives, our relationships, our world would be healthy and holy – set apart for God. In the name of God. Amen