Good Friday Vesper Meditation
Good Evening. Today is the most solemn day of the Christian year, a time to remember Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and burial. As I was thinking about what to say tonight my mind wandered back to my recent trip to the Holy Land. Images connected to this day popped into my mind. Let me share a few. I think about viewing the simple game carved into the stone, a gambling game of the kind that the soldiers would have used to divide up Jesus’ clothes. Walking the crowded narrow streets of old Jerusalem and stopping at several of the stations of the cross along the Via Delarosa. Hearing a group of Romanians singing and praying at one of the stations as they marched proudly behind their country flag. The church of the Holy Sepulcher with its many mosaics celebrating the events of this day. And the garden tomb, entering a rock-cut tomb like the one that held Jesus’ body and sharing communion with our traveling group. All these images and more remind me of the final hours of Jesus’ life and his death. It helps me to recall how much God loves me and to what lengths God will go to share that love. So even now we can proclaim that nothing can separate us from that love, not social distancing, not a virus, not even death. And those words give me great hope.
Let me read the death of Jesus as found in the Gospel of Matthew 27:45-55
Tonight, I don’t want to spend our devotional time focused on Jesus’ death. Now that might be surprising for you to hear. After all, it is Good Friday. I want us to instead look at the heroes of this day. The women who loved Jesus and stayed near him as he hung on the cross and died.
Why do I call them heroes? We hear how the crowd hurled insults at Jesus. It doesn’t take much of a stretch of our imagination to believe that they also hurled insults at these women. Crowd mentality seems to enjoy picking on people when they are down. The women would have been showing extreme grief as they witnessed Jesus painfully dying on a cross. They might even have been keening, a wailing cry. This is a long-standing practice of women in this region practiced to this day when someone is dying or has died. They would have been ridiculed for believing Jesus was the messiah. There would likely have even been suggestions that they were not virtuous women. After all, women in those days never were supposed to go out unattended. Remember, the male disciples had all fled so they were on their own. Of all those who had followed Jesus, including the disciples, they alone were there. They received abuse and were not deterred. They stayed there until the end and were witnesses to his death and where he was buried. What courage, what love these women showed.
Who were they? The Gospel writers only agree on Mary Magdalene as having been present. Other names are given. There are several other Marys listed. We do not know if some of them are talking about the same individual or not. Mary was a very common name. The Gospel of John states that Mary the mother of Jesus was there with her sister. Others list Salome. It seems that the mother of James and John was present as well as others. These women are such an important part of the story, but they get lost in the great drama of Jesus’ crucifixion and death.
Yet, to me, their example is a great teaching moment as to how I am to take the events of this day and use them to live faithfully. I see them telling us three things that I want to talk about for a moment
- Show up. It is so easy to be faithful behind the closed doors of our homes or on Sunday morning at church. When it is more challenging to be faithful, we need to show up. We need to volunteer, to be willing to be visible, to say no to what some people are saying. Think about where, when the isolation is over, you need to show up. Perhaps even now you need to “show up” by saying no to some of the negative stuff circulating on social media.
- Don’t be intimidated: Peer pressure, embarrassment, risk of humiliation or our fear that we will appear stupid or naïve are all forces that can keep us quiet. The women remind us that living our faith at times means stepping out from the crowd. It means being willing to have people say nasty things about us. So ask yourself where have I let myself be intimidated by the crowd into silence? Where have I let my fears keep me quiet?
- Love matters: The women remind us that when you love that is the most important thing in the world. They were willing to take on the abuse of the crowd because they loved Jesus. Do you ever think about how much that meant to Jesus as he was hanging on the cross? In the midst of all the vitriol surrounding him, he could focus on a little pool of love. How that must have eased his heart and gladden the heart of God. We talk about how the cross is a sign of God’s love for us. The women remind us that when we love we are a sign to God that people love and are faithful to God. Think about what you can do to lighten the burden of another. How can you share love with one who might be, right now, in a sea of agony? To be able to focus on that spot of calm repose, to use an old term, might be such a blessing to them. And we know that whenever we love others, we are also loving God. Think about how pleased God is with our efforts!
So today we remember the cross, the sacrifice and the death of Jesus. But we also think about those faithful women. I pray each day that I can be just like them in my walk of faith, showing up, unafraid and full of love.
As I thought of this I am reminded of an event that happened in my ministry about 20 years ago. There was a beloved couple in the church I served. Vern had become a licensed local pastor after he retired and served a couple of small congregations. He preached on occasion when the pastor was gone. He and his wife visited people when they were sick, sent cards of celebration and were always at the back of the church to welcome new people to worship. Vern’s son came home for a visit. When asked if he would be joining them at church the next day he said, “I don’t think I would be welcome.” Vern was aghast. “Why not?” His son came out to them that he was gay and the friend who had traveled with him was actually his partner. I won’t go to church without him. Vern smiled and said, “You are both invited and welcomed.”
This was a conservative church in Idaho! No one really knew what would happen. The next day when it came to joys and concerns Vern stood up and said it was a great joy that his son and partner were with us in worship. There was a moment of silence and then someone began to applaud. They were greeted warmly afterward. Later someone said to me, “Seeing Vern so happy to have his son and partner worshiping just made it seem all right.” Vern risked, stepped out of the crowd, and lived what he always believed that God’s love is for all. It began to change that congregation, it changed one family’s dynamics and I am sure made God smile.
This is the kind of example those women give us as to how to live our faith.
Our vespers have gone so well that I am planning to share with you Easter Evening at 7 pm. Again, I want to remind you to watch and enjoy our Easter service. It is now on our YouTube channel. You will be blessed. Then join me live for a few minutes that evening as we again contemplate the good news of the resurrection for our lives.
Let us pray: God of love, God of Sacrifice we give thanks for Jesus’s life, his teachings, his example, and his love. As we recall his death, we remember our need to be faithful and share, through our lives, your great love with others. This we pray in Jesus’ name. AMEN