Wednesday, April 8, 2009

More Than Words

On Good Friday we in and around Cokato get together from noon to three o'clock in the afternoon to meditate on the "Seven Last Words" of Jesus Christ. I have been assigned to preach this year on John 19:26-27 where Jesus sees his mother and the beloved disciple and gives her into his care. Here are some advance notes I've prepared for my message.

I don't know much about crucifixion, except what I have read, but it must have been a terribly painful way to die. Jonathan Reed (University of La Verne, California) says: "Roman crucifixion sort of hits the fine balance between maximum pain and maximum length of time that you endure that pain." (PR Newswire, March 17, 2005).

Some would hang on a cross for days before dying. Jesus was on the cross for only 6 hours before he died. Perhaps that was because of the severe flogging he had endured. Or perhaps because he was carrying the weight of the world's sins.

Crucifixion was intended to inflict not only physical suffering, but ridicule as well. A person crucified was to be an example of what happens to those who disobey authority. It was considered good form to make fun of someone hung out to die on a cross. The person suffered painfully but not so painfully as to become unconscious. A person dying in this way could hear and see what was going on around him, and, indeed, could speak until he became too weak.

At some moment during the first half of his time on the cross, Jesus saw his mother. We have few details about this encounter, but we do know that Jesus showed love to her and entrusted her to his most beloved friend. He knew she would need someone to support and help her in the days ahead.

In the midst of his suffering, while he was being abused with words and physical pain, he gave blessing and kindness to those who had hurt him, asking that God would forgive. But he does not forget those who had been supportive to him during his earthly life.

Jesus honors his mother. We assume that by this time his father had died. In his time of suffering, Jesus honors the very human family relationship that had brought him into this world. By implication, he lifts up the importance of family, honoring our own efforts to help and comfort and protect our parents and elders when they are vulnerable.

But perhaps even more importantly, Jesus also honors friendship, specifically he honors the the spiritual friendship of those who follow Jesus as their Lord. Jesus entrusts his mother to someone who is related to him spiritually rather than by human birth. This is consistent with what Jesus says about spiritual birth in John 3 and with Matthew 12:50 where Jesus says: "Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." Our spiritual family, and the friendships we have among one another, are according to Jesus, even more precious than human family ties.

How great the love of Jesus. He thinks of and cares for those who will be left behind, for those who are not suffering physically. He recognizes all kinds of pain. He sees the emotional need too. He realizes, because he has lived among us, that we need more than mere words of wisdom and spiritual guidance. We need practical support as well, even down to friends and family who care for us and the need to have a roof over our heads.

As we care for the poor, for those who are alone, for our elders, and as we care for one another in the Christian family, befriending one another, weeping with those who weep, we truly follow our Lord.

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