A sermon for Good Friday:
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. – John 19:25-37
Whoever wrote the gospel of John inserted a character into the narrative which none of the other gospel writers mention. This character is unnamed, John calls him “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. There has been much debate through the centuries about who this disciple is intended to represent. Was it John himself? Another of the twelve? An angel? – for myself I think the most likely answer is that the beloved disciple is intended to represent the community of faithful believers for whom the gospel was written. It was John’s way of placing you and I, and all those who read this timeless story directly into the events. It is, in other words, John’s way of answering the question from the spiritual “were you there?” with an affirmative. Yes. I was there. You were there. The entire world was there at this singular moment in time, this fulcrum on which heaven and earth, love and hate, cruelty and justice, war and peace all balance precariously.
Understanding then, that the beloved disciple is ourselves, we are the disciple who Jesus loved, listen to these words Jesus spoke to us, to you, from the cross. Jesus turned to his mother and said, “Dear woman, here is your child,” and then Jesus turned to us and said, “Here is your mother.”
I would like you to meet your mother. This extraordinary woman who protestants pay far too little attention to. The sole human being who had a part in helping the Word become Flesh. The woman who, when her pregnancy was announced to her, burst into song celebrating the mercy and justice of God who lifts up the lowly and distressed. The very woman who later watched as her son, lowly and distressed, was lifted up on a cross. The poet John Donne in his poem about Good Friday wrote of her:
If on these things I durst not look, durst I
On His distressed Mother cast mine eye,
Who was God’s partner here, and furnish’d thus
Half of that sacrifice which ransom’d us ?
We have all heard the message of Christ crucified so many times our hearts have calcified. We find it hard to weep for Jesus. Harder still to weep for a world which, upon meeting love made manifest, responds so predictably with violence. Perhaps hardest of all to weep for ourselves who are no better than the crowd that cried crucify, no better than the disciples who abandoned Jesus at the last, no better than the soldiers who hammered the nails into place.
If we cannot weep for these things, though, perhaps we can still weep for our mother, whose tears have a power to affect us more than our own grief. Can you spare space in your soul to mourn with the woman who brought love and light and grace and mercy into this world and then lived long enough to see it bleed and die?
If so, if the capacity to share her burden is within you somewhere, then you will bear witness as Christ forges a new family out of sorrow. You will have a new mother. A new father. Countless new brothers and sisters. The whole of humanity knit together through the will of the one who gave his life for our sakes. Witness as the gash that is today carved in the fabric of reality becomes the thread which binds us one to another.
Beloved disciple, here is your mother.