Good Friday, Lent, Luke

Standing witness

I’m living through this Holy Weekend the same way I lived through Lent, engaged by the scripture but still … at a distance. It’s not the first year I’ve been unoccupied by a church at this season – 2013 and 2014 were the same – but it’s the first year I’m fairly sure I won’t ever be in the role of local church pastor again. If I skipped church this weekend, who would notice? It’s a strange feeling.

And everyone who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance observing these things. (Luke 23:49, CEB)

I wonder about the experience of the women around Jesus, not just on this day, but throughout his ministry. Luke is less specific about the support they offered. Here they have simply “followed him from Galilee.” I’m not sure what that implies, although it certainly tells us that they traveled with him to what they must have assumed was the very and most bitter end.

We trust they were really there, both because someone had to bring back the eyewitness accounts, and because if the tradition gave women credit for something, it must have been true. Who were they? Were they friends from the beginning? Did they jostle each other for his attention, form alliances, keep to themselves? (The disciples certainly behaved like contestants on The Bachelor, each one making the case for his own superiority, each one taking pride of place.) You’ve got to say this for the women: they didn’t scatter.

At my Bible Study last week we considered how they found the courage to stand by and watch, even at a distance, the terrible things that happened to Jesus on that Friday. Maybe, someone suggested, they thought there would be a miracle! Yes, and I have often wondered if they expected some heroic rescue, whether by allies or by a change of Pilate’s mind.

Even at a distance, it was terrible. This feels like the most obvious statement one could make. The situation was terrible, the death was terrible.

Even at a distance, even today, it is terrible.

And even today, the world is full of terrible things, terrible violence and mayhem and cruelty.

I wish it felt like comfort to know that God in the person of Jesus suffered the reality of some of the worst things humans can do, wish it felt like comfort to know he understands the hearts and minds of 8-year-old murder victims and poisoned babies, to know he feels the outsider pain of queer and trans folk, to know he hurts with brown and black people oppressed everywhere, to know that he embodied the story of death by religious bigotry.

Last night I thought hard about whether to even go to church. I’m feeling powerless to do much, and aware of my lack of place in any congregation. I wondered, who will care if I go? What difference will it make? Then I got a text from kathrynzj encouraging me to come to worship. The other preacher at my house said later she could feel me trying to decide what to do.

As I crossed the street, I thought, “I guess Jesus will notice I’m here.”

And I want to think he noticed them, too, that he knew, in those last terror-full hours that someone cared, that the women understood how to bear witness and embody a ministry of presence, even at a distance.

Holy Jesus, I cannot stop the troubles of the world, but I promise to keep standing witness. Amen.

3 thoughts on “Standing witness”

  1. “You’ve got to say this for the women: they didn’t scatter.” Best. Line. Ever. And then, they came back!

    The rest of this devotional has me in tears with how you have captured the pathos of this time with this Good Friday. Thank you.

  2. Thanks, Martha.

    As we mark how the power of the Empire killed Jesus, I have been profoundly moved by the “power over process” of our our own empire and am also struggling in how to respond., how to stand witness, and how to show what Letty Russel calls “just hospitality.” I am grateful for your voice and others who remind me I am not standing alone.


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