I have to admit that when I was invited by Central Lutheran Church http://centralmpls.org to be one of seven preachers for their three hour Good Friday service, I was both nervous and excited. Excited because Central is my home church and this would be my first time preaching there. Nervous, well, because Central is my home church and it would be my first time preaching there! Plus–a three hours service. Holy cow!
It was a lovely, lovely service. It was great to listen to different preachers. The music was beautiful. The silence was calming–except for what seemed like an eternity before my turn to preach! Though I don’t mention Tapestry in the sermon, the people who are part of this community were very much on my mind as I was writing it.
On a side note, as usual, I stopped by McDonald’s in the morning to finish my sermon. I had tried to get it but I couldn’t quite get there. At McDonald’s I finished the draft. I also ran into a retiree who is part of Tapestry. He was meeting friends there. Some of them couldn’t believe I was a pastor, though I had my collar on. Others invited me to visit with their pastor at their church. I did end up finishing my sermon just in the nick of time! So here it is.
A reading from John:
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside 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. John 19:26-27
Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Aren’t these beautiful words we hear today from our Jesus as he is suffering and dying on the cross.
I remember hearing these words a little differently when I was younger. “Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother.”
“Behold.” “Look. See.”
I imagine Mary and the Beloved disciple were standing there, maybe next to each other, but each isolated in sorrow, unaware of those who were with them. As often happens, they probably felt like they were alone in their pain. They were alone in their thoughts and fears and shame. They didn’t look outside themselves. They didn’t see there were others with them. They didn’t see the love of Jesus that would sustain them in their time of greatest need.
As I contemplate these words that Jesus spoke to his mother from the cross, I can’t help but think of how this grieving mother would have done anything to protect her son as she had for so much of his life. Yet in the end she could only stand with him in his pain and suffering. I imagine she stood seeing the life he lived, wondering how she might have done more to protect him, not understanding yet that Jesus was here because God so loved the world.
Mary had watched her beloved child grow up. She beheld him as an infant in her arms and as he learned in the temple. She watched him perform his first miracle of turning water into wine. She nudged him into adulthood and into recognizing and using his gifts. We aren’t told in the book of John, but I imagine she listened to all the news she could about Jesus as he called his first disciples and started his ministry, as he healed people—even on the Sabbath. Maybe she cringed when she heard he broke this sacred rule, or maybe she just shook her head and chuckled because, “That Jesus. He is forever pushing the limits.” She most certainly heard about him feeding more than 5000 people on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
And then as Jesus grew more and more bold in his ministry, performed more signs, gathered more followers, spoke in strange ways that maybe she didn’t always understand; and as she surely must have heard the rumors that were swirling about the authorities who were sure to arrest Jesus; and then as people began to worship Jesus and follow him and as he became more and more despised by those in power…her fear had to have been immeasurable!
And finally, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, she must have known this was the final straw. She must have seen the end coming. She must have known with a mother’s heart that the days of her beloved son Jesus were numbered. She must have known that his journey would lead him to this place of the skulls. She must have known that no matter what she would be with him.
But oh how painful this must have been for her. Her heart must have broken as she remembered the sweet innocent baby, the indefensible bundle that was hers to care for, because even when our children are adults, we want to shelter them. To protect them. To love them. Those who had known him in his younger days might not recognize him as he was dying there on the cross.
And it is on this journey that we, too, walk. We wonder with Mary what else we might have done so that our beloved Jesus might not have suffered.
We walk to the cross with Mary the mother of Jesus, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene and the Beloved Disciple. We get to hear the beautiful story of Jesus that is our story.
We arrive at the foot of the cross, with our own sorrows and pain and sufferings. We arrive without seeing those who are there with us. We arrive in the isolation of our own fear and despair.
We arrive with our stories of being bullied or losing our jobs. We arrive with our stories of loneliness and discrimination. We arrive with our stories of illness and death that bring us to our knees. We see this Jesus on the cross. Do we recognize him as the baby who was sent to live among us, this vulnerable baby who is now this vulnerable Christ dying for us on the cross?
Some of you may know my kids, Chris and Austin. We’re members of Central. But if you saw them, you might not recognize them from when we first arrived here about 10 years ago. When we first came to Central, Chris was short and a little heavier set. He stood up here a few times and played his bass guitar with his rock-n-roll t-shirt. Austin was just a little boy. In fact, I remember him singing a solo with Mark and an orchestra one time and for whatever reason young boys do the things they do, he walked on his knees all the way back from the microphone to the pew. Well, Chris turned 20 on Wednesday and Austin turned 18 a couple of weeks ago. My two little boys are now officially young men. I’ve watched them grow from defenseless babies, as kids who were sometimes noisy in the pews, or teenagers who sometimes got into mischief, and now as young men setting off on their own into the world. As I have watched them grow, I too, have wanted to protect them from the pain and suffering of this world.
But they, too, have had to walk with all of us on our journey to the cross.
About two years ago, Chris awoke to find that his dad had suffered a massive stroke. That day our family arrived at the foot of the cross with so much pain and desperation and fear. I’m not sure we really knew where we were, but now I can see that’s where we were. We felt alone and isolated.
But this story is not just our story. This story became Central’s story, too.
About a week after the stroke, while my kids’ dad was in intensive care, we decided that Chris and Austin would go, as planned, on their trip with Central’s youth group. They were heading to New Jersey to help with Hurricane Sandy recovery. I am quite certain that New Jersey was a place that had little meaning to the kids who went on this trip. Most had only heard of the state when they studied the capitals in grade school. And if you haven’t experienced the devastation of a natural disaster, that is quite abstract as well.
But these kids and their leaders experienced what it meant to be at the foot of the cross together with their own community and also with a community that was new to them. My own children were suffering immensely when they went on that trip. Thanks be to God they had their brothers and sisters in Christ with them who walked this painful path with my children and held them up when they felt too weak to stand, who stood there with them, who kneeled at the cross and wept and prayed with them. It must have been something to behold the love that was shown them.
As these young people heard the stories of others in New Jersey who had suffered great loss, they realized that they were on the road to the cross together. My children were able serve others even in their deepest pain. And the people who shared their stories with our youth helped transform them so they could better understand where faith and hope and love abide. This abstract place and people became part of our youth’s story. Eyes were opened and people who would never have walked together were able to see how their stories were one in Christ.
Today we stand together at the cross of Jesus. We come with all of our burdens and hurts and shame and pain. And Jesus remembers us. Jesus blessed his mother from the cross, and he blessed the Disciple whom he loved. He made sure they cared for each other. He made sure that they beheld each other—that they looked around them and saw they were not alone. Jesus made sure that they, and we, know that we are his family.
Their path didn’t end at the cross, and neither does ours.
Mary’s sister and Mary Magdalene stood with Mary and the Beloved Disciple and formed a community based in seeing each other in Christ’s love. Who are the people who stand with you? Look around you. Behold! We are here together. We are community. We are the beloved family of God.
“Behold your son. Behold your mother.” Amen.