Homily for Good Friday 2020
Isaiah 52:13-53:12 Psalm 22:1-11 Hebrews 10:16-25 John 18:1-19:42
Isn’t scripture amazing – the living word, the word of God - amazing. We hear these passages year after year as we move toward Easter. We heard Matthew’s version of the Gospel on Palm Sunday and today, on Good Friday, we hear John’s version. Nothing justifies what he experiences, the agony, the darkness. It is a gripping scene that draws us in.
In this Passion of Our Lord, I was touched by Mary’s pain.
I am not a mother, regardless of what you may have heard. I have not given birth to a child, I have not carried a child in my womb for nine months to understand that relationship. I have been a teacher of special needs children, whom I loved. I deeply love my nieces and nephews, but I have not given them life. Mary’s pain became real to me in praying the Stations of the Cross.
I want to share with you a story of another Mary from Rachel Naomi Remen, a doctor and counselor who works with chronic and terminally ill people. Her stories touch my heart. Mary’s son had come home for a week’s vacation from college, feeling tired and looking pale, his usual vitality gone. Concerned, she had taken him to a physician, who diagnosed a rare form of cancer. It was untreatable.
When she heard the diagnosis, Mary left the doctor’s office and went home. Her son was now back at school. She walked up the front steps, flung open the door of her house, and howled at the top of her voice. Still screaming her outrage, she went from room to room, flinging open windows and shaking her fists in the air and shouting. Mary’s house was in a conventional neighborhood where many of the families were Irish Catholic. Her husband, concerned about what the neighbors would think, followed after her, closing windows as she opened them and trying to calm her to no avail. She continued to howl, and he, overwhelmed and frightened, called the family therapist they had been seeing as a couple. The therapist called back almost immediately, and her husband rushed with the phone to the bedroom where Mary stood shouting before the open window. “Mary, Mary,” he had said, “the therapist is on the phone.” With this she turned to him and screamed, “The therapist? The therapist? You talk to the therapist, Harry. I’ll talk to God!”
It took all of Mary’s enormous passion, will and vitality to get through the next fourteen months. Together with her four daughters, she had taken her son to anyone who might offer help. They had tried everything known, but the cancer had raged through his body and finally, a shadow of himself, he died in her arms. He was twenty years old. All her love as a mother had not been able to save him. She felt the life in her had gone with him. She was numb for months. Inconsolable.
About two years after his death, she had gone with her brother to a Catholic church that she had never visited before. Unable to pray, she wandered through the nave, stopping before a statue of the Virgin Mary. Suddenly the pain that had been frozen in her heart all those months found words. “How could you do it, Mary?” she asked aloud. “How could you surrender your son? How could you find a way to live after he died? Where is there any hope of comfort?” Tears rolling down her face, she told Mary that she had been good: a good person, a good mother. There was nothing more that she could have done.
“Why?” she demanded. “Why?” What possible reason could there be for someone full of life, this new, this shining, to suffer and die? She knew beyond a doubt that she would never, never get over the loss. Still crying, she told Mary how young her boy had been, how he still sometimes forgot to eat and how he didn’t know how to wash his clothes properly. “He needed a mother, Mary” she said in tears. “He needs a mother there, too. I don’t understand, but I give him into your care.” Turning away, she left the church.
A day or two later, as she was driving to work, she was surprised to find herself humming an old hymn under her breath, a hymn about comfort. She often finds herself humming it. And very gradually, over time, she found more room to breathe.
The power of her story stuns and awes me to the depth of her love and the agony of her loss. Mary finishes the story with the mystery she experienced. The mystery that it is possible to be comforted.
Along with Mary’s agony, we feel Jesus’ love for his mother and his disciples. We sense his desire to comfort them and for them to comfort each other. Jesus has prepared the disciples at the last supper. He told them what he thought they needed to know to go on without him. He teaches them that He is the vine, the source of life and the disciples – we - are the branches. He tells them to love one another as they have been loved by Jesus. He is preparing them for a time to come –a time without him.
On the cross at Golgotha, in the midst of his pain, he cares for his mother’s future. Even while dying on the cross, he is concerned about his family. He entrusts Mary’s health and well being to John. Joseph, according to the readings must have been dead by this time. According to the custom in Jewish society, the oldest son cares for his mother. Jesus entrusted Mary to the disciple who stayed with him at the cross.
The message I get from these words is the importance of loving one another, to love in community, to connect and comfort others. To be better able at connecting with others we must connect with God. We must pray and we must listen to God’s message to us through scripture and being quiet in the presence of God. The listening to what God wants us to hear is so hard for me and may be for some of you. Listening is so important. I think of all the times I have not heard God through the rush and cacophony of my busyness. All those times I rush through a prayer without waiting for an answer. All those times I don’t allow time for God to speak to me, to use me, to direct me, because it takes too much time, or I’m afraid of what God will say or require of me. That was when I realized, really realized the need to listen to God.
As we approach 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:
1. Show up and choose to be present to all that life offers. Be a good model – by walking your talk.
2. Pay attention to what has heart and meaning for you and resonates within your soul.
3. Tell the truth without blame or judgment. Say what you mean and mean what you say or keep noble silence.
4. 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