This is not a place where we want to be, here at the end of the passion reading. Do we really want to stand at the tomb of lost hopes? Do we really want to stand on a hill of disappointment? Do we really want to embrace suffering?
It is a hot day in Jerusalem. Rain is seven months away, and the dust is choking. We are outside the walls, just outside. People are constantly passing by. On the other side of the city, the lambs are being slaughtered for the Passover. There are a few people standing at a distance, jeering. It’s getting dark in the middle of the day. That’s not right. We know what an eclipse is, we have felt the sun shrinking like we have felt our hearts shrinking as this day has developed. It will be dark soon, the stars will be out for a few minutes.
This scene is worse than a murder on the street, worse than any catastrophe we may run across. This is the one who deserves all our love, our respect, our reverence. No one wants to be here. Everyone has to be dragged here. We have to be dragged here. We have to look at hopelessness, we have to look at death. We have to look at the death of pride, we have to look at the death of our pride. This isn’t a place for comfortable dreams, this is a place that is all too real.
People have run away rather than face Jesus’ suffering. People have abandoned him rather than face him, rather than face us. People have not be strong enough to come this far. We’re not much different: we have a little more courage, but we still want to hang around at the edges, to stay at the edge of the action and protect ourselves from getting sucked in. We can’t duck what’s here, we can’t duck what’s now. It is a place were it appears that we are helpless; it is a place where we feel powerless. This is the place we have to start. We have to start where we feel powerless.
When we embrace our powerlessness, we have to let go of our pride. We have to let go of our certainty. We have to let go of our need to be right. We have to let go of ourselves; turn ourselves inside out. That’s something that Jesus has done, and nowhere is it more real than here. Jesus has put aside status. Jesus has put aside personal reputation. Jesus has put aside ambition. Jesus has put aside knowledge. Jesus has put aside control. Jesus has put aside Law. Jesus has put aside possessions and riches. Jesus has put an end to fairytale dreams of a perfect kingdom on earth that works like every other kingdom on earth, staffed by loyalists who will do whatever they’re told. Jesus has created a place on this bare hill where we can start over. We have to come here to start over, to remember who we are and why we’re here. We have to put aside what Jesus has put aside, if we are to be imitators of Christ.
We don’t leave our humanity behind. We don’t leave our sadness, our emptiness, our regret. We remember who we are and what we’ve done. We bring all those things that burden us here, all those things we’ve carried that weigh us down. Our fear. Our stubbornness. Our pride. Our ambition. Our desperate appetite for easy comfort. Our need to control everything. Our need to be right.
We bring them here to leave them. We bring them here to nail them up. We bring them here to destroy them. We bring them to the one who understands us; who have lived as we have and knows where they come from. We bring them here so they can be washed away by the Blood of Christ.
But we are not alone in the shadow of the Cross? It’s time to look around. It’s time to see who else is here:
Mary Magdalene. A single woman who used to be possessed by demons. Most folks would have kept her on the fringe: stuck her with the label “crazy” and swept her under the rug. She could have easily lived out her life in the hills around the sea of Galilee, shunned by all, scrambling around until her life ended. She was considered cursed. Jesus lifted her up, gave her a future. Jesus brought a lot of people back from the fringes of life, from the edge of respectability. That’s one reason he was a threat.
Mary, the wife of Cleopas. We don’t know much about her. Like a lot of people who make our lives complete, we don’t know who they are or what they do that make our lives possible. Occasionally we glimpse the people who keep life together. The people who make our clothes, the people who grow our food, the people who keep the power and the water flowing, the people who keep us safe from danger. They are here, among us, silent.
Mary, the Mother of Jesus. A tabernacle for the Body of Christ; a chalice of the Blood of Christ. The one who carried him, the one who gave birth to him. A woman who sees her only son dying, a woman who sees her future dying. Widows in her time are dependent on their sons for support. Without a son to take care of her, her future looks grim. Who will feed her when she is hungry, who will care for her when she is sick, who will hold her hand when she is dying? Who will protect her from the weather, for victimization of greedy people? People may be sizing her up right now to see what they can get from her while she is weak.
Jesus has not forgotten his obligations. He sees the big picture and he sees the little pictures. He turns to the fourth person there: the Beloved Disciple. “Behold your mother; behold your son.” Jesus gives his mother to the Beloved Disciple, the one Jesus knows he can trust. The Beloved Disciple accepts.
Who is the Beloved Disciple? Who is the one who was closest to Jesus, who did not abandon him last night, who followed him here despite personal danger? A very real danger: the Romans didn’t just execute the ringleaders of revolutions; they killed everyone they could find and were relentless in rooting out any hint that one could oppose Rome and survive. Who is putting his life on the line?
Tradition tells us his name is John, but he is not named by the author of John’s Gospel. We’d want to know who he is, he’s the one we really should be paying attention to since of all the disciples he’s the one who gets it. He’s the one who can turn to Jesus without reservation.
What if we’re the Beloved Disciple? We are the ones who walk this entire journey with Jesus. We stay awake in the Garden, we don’t run away through the Passion. We have heard every word of the Good News and we accept it, at least we say we do. What if we’re the ones who have care of those in need: the frightening ones on the outside, the nameless ones in the inside, the mother who has looked after us.
And it isn’t about just paying the bills for folks; making arrangements in the corner and then leaving. This is a commitment to take someone into our home, give them a place at our table, give them little tasks to be responsible for. We have to let someone new into our home, into our sleeping room, into our innermost being. Bringing someone into our homes means opening our hearts. Bringing someone into our homes means changing our lives, changing our priorities.
We don’t have the luxury of just looking up at Jesus. Now we all stand at the foot of the Cross on equal ground. Now we have to look after people: the three women standing here and all those are aren’t strong enough to be here. We have responsibilities, given to us by Christ himself. Jesus has entrusted to us those He finds most precious. If His work is to continue, we have to do it.
This is part of what we embrace when we embrace the Cross. We embrace the Blood of Christ that washes us clean, we embrace the Blood of Christ that makes us whole, we embrace the Blood of Christ that makes us one with Him. We also embrace those whom Jesus loves when we embrace the Cross: those who are on the fringe, those who are unknown, those who are vulnerable. When we embrace the Cross we not only embrace our salvation, but we embrace the work of Christ on earth. Today, we remember the Passion of Christ and all it means in order to embrace the Cross with all our hearts.