Woman, here is your son...
Throughout Lent, at LNPC we are exploring the Biblical Stations of the Cross. We have the stations up in our sanctuary, and the congregation is doing a Lenten Worship Project, bringing in images that we find in media, our lives, art, etc. and helping to construct one of the stations during worship each week. This week, we explored "Jesus Cares for his Mother," Station 12.
|"Never Coming Home" by photographer Andrew Lichtenstein|
Station 12: Jesus Cares for His Mother
Lenten Worship Project words: shared pain, solidarity, mutual suffering
If you had been standing there that day, like Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas past, a silent, unseen observer of the scene unfolding around you, amid the heat and the dust, the crowds and the horror... if you had watched closely you would have seen two dramas unfolding simultaneously.
On one side of you are the soldiers – they’ve done their work for the day, gotten this man up on the cross, and they turn to the spoils – his possessions to divide and keep. They decide to roll dice, cast lots, to gamble for his final belongings, the very clothes off his back, all that he had of value, all that belonged to him, his final tie to this earthly life. So you’d see them laughing, maybe, huddled together, a winner about to be declared, the one who would become the new owner of that which had once been his.
On the other side of you is Jesus. Naked and dying on the cross. Stripped of all that he had, all that he was, all that anyone thought he would end up being.
And standing near the cross, unable to tear themselves away, refusing to leave him alone in these last hours, waiting with him for his last breaths, are those who love him. His mom, his aunt, his friends Mary Magdalene and Mary, Clopas’ wife. And his dear friend. John, presumably. “The disciple whom Jesus loved,” as he calls himself, as he defines himself.
As you watched, you would hear behind them, as though in another world, the soldiers’ game, competing for his belongings, and across from them you would see the people to whom he belonged. Or who belonged to him.
And in the middle of that moment you would witness an exchange, a giving away or a giving to, his mother, his friend – ‘Woman, here is your son. Here is your mother.’
And from that hour – it says, he took her into his house.
This week our session had an interesting request presented to us. A former member, whose father made this baptismal font in 1968 in a woodshop in his garage, has a new baby granddaughter born across the country in Maine. This grandmother came to us to ask whether she might be permitted to ship this baptismal font to a Catholic church in Maine for one week, so that her granddaughter could be baptized in it. She talked about the tie to family, the link to her parents and their love and now absence. She talked about the desire to provide that sense of connection, of identity, her longing to have her side of the family represented as the baby’s other side of the family would be.
Now, as crazy as this sounds, and as bizarre a request it is, it was an opportunity to see and hear one another in a deeply significant way. So we said, Let’s talk about it.
We sat in this space and wrestled together with our understanding of faith, of baptism, of community, of the meaning of this piece of furniture and its absence, of our community’s desire to participate in some way.
And in that conversation, there was one thing said that struck me as deeply profound and important:
When we are baptized, when the water covers us and we are united with Jesus in his death and resurrection, we are born into a new family, a deeper, broader, wider family than the ones of our birth, a family that spans the constraints of time and space, stretches past limits and bloodlines, denominations and state lines, we are bound to one another, brother, sister, mother, son, daughter and father, in the family of God.
When that bawling, wet child opens her eyes, whichever bawling, wet child she may be, we say to her, Little one! Look around you! Here is your mother, here are your sisters and brothers and fathers – we are your family now, and just one piece of it! We represent the family you now are part of, you will never see its limits – saints gone before and those yet to come, languages and cultures a million miles from here that you will never lay eyes on - they belong to you and you belong to them. In Christ, we are now connected, We are family.
And then it became apparent to those of us sitting there – that at some level, and whether this grandmother realizes it or not, this request is not about her family. This is about God’s family, and all of ours. So we decided to let the font go there. And we will send along a message, that as this baby is baptized we celebrate with joy a sister joining the family of God – far away in Minnesota this little part of God’s family is extending our own welcome, in wood and water, in symbol and sign, to the family of God. That despite differences we perceive as human beings - in faith, in the miles between us, in the theology that defines us, in the human dynamics that get in the way of real human relationships – something is happening here in this moment that we are part of (and would be even without our font standing in for us! would be even if we never even knew this baptism took place! that we are part of every time anyone is baptized!) The family of God is welcoming a sister.
Through Jesus’ death we are made brother and sister, mother and son, father and daughter, family to one another. To the world. We are joined in a deep and profound way, as real and unchosen as the families we were born into. Given to one another.
The early Christians from the very beginning called one another brother and sister, through Christ’s death they were family. Strangers and neighbors, Slaves and owners said sister, brother.
Scholar Rodney Stark explains that one of the reasons Christianity went from about 1000 people to 6 million people in less than 300 years may be in part because of this understanding of family in God. The Roman Empire went through two major plagues in that time. When this happened most everyone who could run, ran: Roman doctors fled to the countryside and those who were not sick and dead left the sick and dead to fend for themselves. Except the Christians. Christians stayed and nursed each other, they stayed and nursed the sick because they had a profound understanding that these were not sick people, separate from me, these are brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. In Christ, these are my family. Of course, by doing so, they also developed immunity to the disease that enabled them to survive when others died.
We are bound in our suffering, in all the ways we’ve seen on this Lenten journey are part of our humanity and part of Christ’ suffering on the cross – our sorrow and pleading, our shame and regret, our hopelessness and impossibility, the crosses we bear for ourselves and others - as Christ holds all of those in his own being what he gives us in return, in that moment, is one another. Here is YOUR mother, his mother, here is YOUR son. By belonging to him we belong to each other.
And so this is why we can’t not care. If you take someone into your home, you get sick when they get sick. You are there when they cry and you see them mad and you make them mad, and you laugh together and support each other, and you can’t help sharing life with them in the very most ordinary of ways. That is what it is to be the family of God. To say to the world, you are not alone, brother. I am here, sister. And to hear those words back from those sitting next to you.
Three weeks ago we did this for Sarah and Tim. We heard the words of Christ, who bears our suffering, we heard the words of Christ as he held out before us this family and he said, LNPC – here is your mother, grieving the loss of her son, here is your son, lost to you and to the world as he was to her. It didn’t matter whether they were “one of us” or not, they are family. They belong to Christ so they belong to us. We belong to Christ so we belong to them. From that hour we took them into our home.
As we gather in these weeks in the shadow of the cross, as we keep glancing in on Christ in these last moments of his life, tonight we hear behind us, as though bartering for the dead man’s clothes, the greed and the self-interest, the disconnect and division, the way that sacred things are made cheap and human life is boiled down to what we have or own, the way hope is lost and people are isolated and forgotten, left to fend for themselves,
But right in front of us is Christ, in the midst of bearing the suffering of all the world, in the midst of joining us so fully as to take on death and all its impact, holding Japan and Libya and Yemen and the Ivory Coast, holding Sarah and Tim, and little Connor’s family, and a new little baby in Maine, and he says This one is yours now, and you are theirs. Here you are. Brothers and sisters. Given to each other. Bound in the suffering that I bear with you. Bound to one another in my death.
Every year we celebrate the beginning of the Church at Pentecost, and rightfully so, when the Spirit of God comes upon the disciples and they speak the message of Jesus that penetrates the hearts of people from far and wide, and the community of fear becomes the community of faith. But I think, in some way, the church also begins right here, in the shadow of the cross, with these words.
Woman, here is your son. Here is your mother.
May our awareness of our place in the family of God continue to carve room within us for the suffering and joy of others; may we step up and welcome one another into our home.