Near the Cross
At Easter, we celebrate the turning point in human history, when God and humanity were restored to each other, through the suffering and overcoming of Jesus. Millions around the world remember and celebrate this sacred event. The story is told in four books of the Bible, called the 'gospels' or 'good news. They describe a strange series of events the day Jesus was crucified - a punishment for Rome's worst criminals. The gospels talk about the world going dark at noon, earthquakes, how onlookers jeered Jesus while the women wailed. They describe the other prisoners crucified with him, the centurion who said, ‘surely he is the son of God’, and the prophesies from days of old that came to fruition before their eyes.
In John chapter 19, though, it says simply ‘There they crucified him …’ But it adds in a detail you don’t find in the other gospels: 'Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother ….’
Near the cross
We think that at this stage Joseph had died, so Mary - Jesus' mother - was a widow. In all the catastrophic events of that day, Mary's sorrow must have been the deepest. I wonder how she felt hearing Jesus cry out those words from Psalm 22: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’
It’s significant that Jesus chose these words when he was on the cross - a line from one of the 50 poems of lament or protest, found in the Book of Psalms. It was meant as a prayer to express longing and suffering, and anger at God. Theologian Tim Mackies says that these protest psalms ‘acknowledges what theologians call ‘the great contradiction’ – that tension between believing in God’s goodness and acknowledging the unfair suffering and pain we see around us.’
"The word 'salvation' - or 'sozo' in the original greek - not only means to be saved from destruction; it also means to be healed and made whole."
At no time in human history is this more alive than on Black Friday, where Jesus remains faithful to God’s plan for humanity, but acknowledges his suffering and pain within it. Jesus is God entering into our suffering and healing it with his love.
And it was Black Friday for Mary, too. I wonder, as she stood there, did her mind go back to the birth of Jesus? In her bone-deep sorrow, did she look back at the hopes she had held in her heart: what about those men that came from afar acknowledging him as a King? What about the shepherds who came to worship after angels appeared to him? What about the angel that came to me, saying he would be Emmanuel, God with us?
Why, God? Why have those promises not come true?
If you have had a relationship with God for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve experienced a Black Friday in your life. That day where the promises of God seem to go black, the sun disappears, and hope feels gone. And in those times, God invites us to pray our own Psalm 22. As Mackie says, 'This is God’s way of inviting us to process … these human words to God become, through the Scriptures, God’s words to us. He is inviting us to do this and to name what’s wrong.'
Even when we feel abandoned, God gives us permission to name it and cry out in protest. And that is the very thing that Jesus did on the cross, echoing his ancestor King David, who wrote the original poem.
'It’s a prayer of lament and it became the prayer of countless thousands of others after David, to pray through their times of suffering. And so what Jesus is doing is he is taking up the suffering not only of his ancestor David, but of all the thousands of others who have prayed this prayer ...
The word 'salvation' - or 'sozo' in the original greek - not only means to be saved from destruction; it also means to be healed and made whole.
'Jesus taking this prayer on his lips gives me an anchor to hold on to. Jesus is God entering into our suffering and healing it with his love,' concludes Mackie.
Even on this black Friday, we see a glimpse of redemption in the small detail of his mother looking on. ‘When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home,' says the Book of John.
From generation to generation
We see that in the midst of sorrow, God’s Kingdom is moving. Jesus is literally putting widows into a home – just as God asks us to do. Even on this darkest of days, there is a glimmer of hope. There is beauty in the blackness.
On this day, the gospels tell how a large veil that kept people out of the sacred space in the Jewish temple, housing the arch of the covenant, spontaneously tore in two. The separation between God and people would never again exist. We are seeing the first glimpses of Easter Sunday; the first fruits of the resurrection. In the midst of Mary's deepest sorrows, the prophesy she spoke over her son before he was born was coming to fruition:
'And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46–55)
We are the descendants of God’s grace. There is a resurrection. The Kingdom of God continues to bring us life and healing today.