Year B; Good Friday, April 2, 2021.FB
Passion of St. John
This is a love letter to all those who wrote for our St. Paul’s Lenten Meditation booklet. You have strengthened me and inspired me. I have felt God’s presence in your words. Your love of the faith and your reflections and questions have brought me nearer to God. That’s quite something considering how difficult this year has been for us all. The words of Jesus that we read last night at the Maundy Thursday Spiritual Eucharist are demonstrated by you for this Body of Christ, “Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34) Thank you.
In the Presiding Bishop’s Easter address, the Most Reverend Michael Curry shared his question to Mary Magdalene, “What got you up that morning to go to the tomb?” And he calls it purely a labor of love. She loved him so much, she went to the tomb even though she believed that he was behind the stone in the tomb. Dead.
And then Michael Curry repeated over and over again, “Why? Why did you go in the dark on a dangerous road that morning? And her answer was, “Because we loved him and we got up and we went anyway. Because we loved him and we got up and we went anyway”
Love compelled them that morning.
Today, Good Friday, a similar chant is ours at his torture and death. As Jesus hung there with many criminals of the Roman State, few people remained near to him. Most everyone had fled. No one was left cheering “Hail! King of the Jews!” “You are the Messiah!” Even the “Crucify him!” taunts were gone, as if the jeering crowd eventually yawned and said, “Ho hum. We’ve seen hundreds of these. Let’s go get a beer.”
But there were the women and the “one whom Jesus loved,” that one of the twelve. They stayed until the end. They stayed at his feet as if to continue to learn at the Master’s feet. As if to worship at his feet. And certainly, to mourn and keen and weep at his feet.
Our song as we make our way to the cross today is similar to the words that Presiding Bishop calls out for Mary Magdalene, “We love him and we remain at the foot of the cross anyway. We love him and we remain at the foot of the cross anyway.”
Albert Holtz, a Benedictine monk of the Newark, New Jersey Abbey calls himself an inner-city monk and teacher. For years I have treasured his Lenten Meditations. They are derived from stories of the year-long sabbatical that took him around the world to visit churches and abbeys. The story he writes for Holy Tuesday is from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, entitled, “Feeling Christ Suffer.”
He tells of attending the first Mass of the new rector and concelebrating Mass with him for hundreds of the faithful at the large church in Santa Cruz. The church was packed and many people, families with babies in arms, toddlers and children were seated all over the nave. There was standing room only where many people who came in late from the rural towns were standing with their children.
At the peace, there was a joyful noise of greeting, and the priests came down the aisles blessing the children and greeting the adults. Father Holtz went to the back of the church to pass the peace to the people who were standing there. He had noticed a family that had filed in late. The father was holding a bundle wrapped in a white blanket. The little girl was wearing a white dress that had gotten quite dirty. The mother appeared “preoccupied and sober.”
Father Holtz made his way to them for “The Peace.” He saw the father shift the white bundle from one arm to the other, making room to pass the peace. Father Holtz peeked into the bundle and saw a baby. He writes, “…a shiny dark eye sparkled up at me. I gently touched the baby’s cheek with the knuckle of my first finger.”
He began to bless the family when an older woman whispered, “The baby is dead, Father. You have to baptize him.” It turns out that the baby had just died in the hospital where he had had uncontrollable diarrhea from the bad water in their camp. Father Holtz said quietly, “Your child is already with God. He needs no baptism.”
He agreed to join the new priest at the family’s house for a funeral. Father Holtz asked the baby’s name. “Juan Domingo.” With the family at their home, they read Scripture and said a blessing before the body was placed in the small white coffin and taken to the cemetery.
Santa Cruz. Holy Cross.
Good Friday is a day of abandonment. But also, it’s a day of intimacy during which those who loved Jesus so deeply stayed with him as he died. Christ’s work in death is to be present with each and every death on this earth. Christ was with Juan Domingo.
We pray on the Feast Day of Holy Cross these words that are also our chant, “…our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself…” No greater love is this than God drawing and redeeming the whole world in this moment of the cross: Little Juan Domingo who died from poverty and contaminated water in his village, a mother’s sorrow like no other. And the believers’ hope is in God’s new provision of love for ever and ever.
In a few minutes, we will bring the cross into view. We will reserve time to venerate it, pray with it, interact with it and let it speak to us. I have brought with me some items to hold in my hand today that remind me of the “hard wood of the cross” and the suffering of Jesus. These are remembrances from parishioners I’ve known. I will hold this olive wood cross as well as this cross of nails when I say, “Jesus, I love you. And I remain at the foot of the cross with you.”
Will you love him with me at the foot of the cross?