|"Crucifixion," Master of Catherine of Cleves, 1438 CE|
Scripture can be found here...
It is odd, isn’t it? To be hearing this passage on this night.
A night when we usually hear the words that Jesus spoke to his friends on the night before he died.
“Take, eat. This is my body. Drink this, all of you, this is my blood.”
“Unless I wash you, you have no part in me.”
“I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
“Stay awake with me.”
These are the words we associate with this night—a night when Jesus breaks bread, and pours wine, and sits at table with his friends. A night when he takes off his outer robe, wraps himself in a towel, and washes their feet. A night when not only tells, but shows what love looks like.
But here we are, and it’s as if we are reading, not tomorrow’s headlines, but Saturday’s.
Our passage begins, “When the soldiers had crucified Jesus…” and so we come in, in the middle of the crucifixion. Jesus is already nailed to the cross.
And what happens first is a bizarre, even unseemly thing—the soldiers standing nearby, angling for his clothing. There’s even a reference to a psalm, to show us how it fulfills some kind of prophecy. It’s almost enough to distract you from the fact that he is now entirely naked, entirely vulnerable. Whatever we know, or think we know, or believe, or hope about who and what Jesus is, at this moment, he is utterly powerless. In fact, he is dying.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were, most likely, four women, and one more person, a man… he is that mystery, that enigma, the “beloved disciple,” the one who is never named for us. He is there too.
One of the women is Jesus’ mother. When he sees her, and the beloved disciple beside her, he speaks.
“Woman, here is your son.”
And then he turns to the disciple.
“Here is your mother.”
This is a deceptively simple moment.
At the most basic level, Jesus is securing some… well, security for his mother. A woman in ancient Palestine was the responsibility of her nearest, most senior male relative. Husband. Brother. Eldest son. Her safety and security depended upon his willingness to fulfil this basic obligation.
Here is Jesus, dying on the cross. And he wants to make sure his mother has a place to live, and someone to care for her as she ages. Simple.
And not so simple.
This is Jesus’ mother. The one and only other time we saw her in this gospel was in the second chapter. She and her son (and all his friends) were at a wedding in Cana. They had no wine. In that moment, she intervened. She urged her son to step in and help. And when he did, he turned what was already a joyous occasion into a God-hosted love-feast, pouring out overflowing abundance and deliciousness.
And here she is now, as her son is dying on the cross. In a moment we will hear his next words.
“I am thirsty.”
And a very half-hearted attempt will be made to get some sour wine into his mouth via a sponge and a stick.
As dreadful as that sounds to us, as completely mortifying and even painful it would be to try to drink it in the midst of real suffering, we are being asked to hold the events together. We are being asked to see them as all a part of what Jesus came to do.
The wedding banquet, a beautiful feast made even more so by an offering of the best wine anyone has ever tasted.
A man on a cross, dying, commending his mother into the care of his dearest friend, who, after that day, takes her into his home—or, as the Greek says, takes her “into his own.”
And in both instances, in both situations, as wildly unlike as they are, Jesus is about the exact same thing.
Jesus is creating community.
The wedding: a community in which two people pledge caring and devotion until their dying breath; a community of laughter, dancing, celebration of a circle opening ever wider; a community blessed by an unforeseen outpouring of God’s delicious abundance.
The cross: a community of love that gives itself fully until its dying breath; a community in which the caretaking does not come to an end, but in which the circle opens wider and wider, so that no one—no one’s mother, no one’s child—is left out in the cold; a community in which the outpouring of abundance is one man’s very body, his very blood.
Jesus is creating community. Jesus is showing, not telling, what love looks like.
Jesus’ words and deeds from the cross are not so different from his words and deeds at supper the night before.
“Stay with me.”
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”
“Here, let me wash you.”
“Take, and eat. Take, and drink. This is my life. I give it to you.”
And finally, ‘When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.’
Finished. Not as in, “Whoa, that guy is finished,” as we say when someone is carried from the rink or the field.
Finished, as in, “Mission accomplished.”
Finished, as in, “When you eat this bread and drink this cup, remember me.”
Remember. Put it all together. Put us all together.
“Love one another, just as I have loved you.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.