Good Friday, Gospel of Mark

Along with many other women (Mark 15:1-41)

At the first church I served, there was a service in the evening on Maundy Thursday that began with communion and ended with Tenebrae. They did not have a custom of worship on Good Friday. What they did have was a rough and rustic cross that took the place of the brass one during Lent.

I was over-eager, and glad to be serving this church, and possibly at my most pious ever, and I felt like I ought to do something. I planned a service for noon. I chose poetry and scripture. I copied and pasted three Taize chants into a bulletin. I created an, I hoped, evocative arrangement on the altar. I arranged chairs in the chancel, where we could sit at the foot of the cross.

Then I waited to see if anyone would come.

The nursery school had been in session that morning, and four of the teachers came to join me, church members all. Another woman arrived just as we were sitting down.

Some women were watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James (the younger one) and Joses, and Salome. When Jesus was in Galilee, these women had followed and supported him, along with many other women who had come to Jerusalem with him. (Mark 15:40-41, CEB)

Three women are named by Mark, along with many other women. It wasn’t supposed to be a service just for the ladies, but somehow it felt appropriate. There we sat: Martha, Joanna, Ginny, Jan, Marcia, and Liz. I don’t know if they were there for me, or for Jesus, but I was glad for the company as I tried to bear witness. Our six chairs formed a horseshoe open to the cross.

It must have been the same for the women, named and unnamed, clustered together. There must have been some comfort in being together even as they witnessed his horrifying death. They had each other as a shield against the jeers of the crowd, as a reminder that his love was real and could not be killed despite the worst the world could do.

We’re living in a Good Friday world. We need to hold onto each other. Who would you want to be with at the cross?

Thank you, God, for the people who bear witness with me as I strive to stand for you. 


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.

Good Friday

At a Distance

But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching these things. (Luke 23:49, NRSV)

They have no names in Luke, the followers from Galilee, the women who stood at a distance. A predictably stressful trip to the big city for the holiday became a disaster, dinner with trusted friends giving way to betrayal, arrest, a night without sleep as they waited for word. The new day brought no solace. They watched the cross carried, saw other women — who didn’t know him — wailing and beating their breasts, maybe the same ones who yelled, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

They watched the lots cast, his clothing divided by strangers, robes they brushed against serving at table the night before.

They watched and listened, heard the scoffing insults, read the sign over his head:

This is the King of the Jews.”

But this was the King of Love, speaking kindly to the criminal beside him. The women stood at a distance; even if they could not hear his words, they recognized his tone and his expression.

Their hearts tuned to his love, they did not run. They blinked back. They swallowed hard. They waited. They waited to see what the authorities would do, watched for a chance to care for his body. When they knew where he would be, they went to prepare the spices and ointments.

At the tomb, we will hear their names, but for today, remember how they followed and stood at a distance, fierce and waiting. Remember their perspective, not just their view of the terrible way he died, but their understanding of his life and their love for him. Remember their witness, their determined patience through the long, hard day.

I imagine they drew strength from him, but I imagine they drew it from each other, too. I imagine clasped hands, familiar postures, shallow breaths, faces set toward Jerusalem just like his.

They waited at a distance to do one more good service.