April 15, 2022, Good Friday – At the Foot of the Cross, John 18:1- 19:42 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
Last night we sat around the table of Jesus’s last supper with his apostles, listening to his words, eating and drinking the bread and the wine that he gave us as a way to remember him always. We followed the example he gave us, by washing each other’s feet. If we felt awkward doing that, then that also was a re-membering, because his friends felt awkward when Jesus washed their feet, too.
Tonight we put ourselves at the foot of the Cross. We know that not only Judas, but most of the other apostles as well, the bold Peter included, ran away in terror when Jesus was arrested by the soldiers of the High Priest and sentenced to death by the Roman governor. Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that there was a group of Jesus’s faithful friends, mostly women, who didn’t run and hide, but who stood at a distance and kept watch as Jesus was crucified. But John tells us that there was a small group who came close, who stood at the very foot of the Cross. The reason John can tell us that with authority, is because John was there – the only apostle, and the only man, who stood nearby, close enough that Jesus spoke to him from the Cross.
As was his custom, John doesn’t refer to himself by name. He calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” not only here, but throughout his gospel. That might sound like John is kind of tooting his own horn, as if he thought the Master loved him best. And certainly, John, who was probably the youngest of the disciples, was one of the three who were specially close to Jesus. It was John and his brother James, and Peter, who accompanied Jesus when he raised Jairus’s daughter, and who went up the mountain with Jesus when he was transfigured. But I don’t believe John called himself “the one Jesus loved” out of pride. I think that John’s devotion to Jesus was the one thing by which he identified himself – so much so, that the one and only thing John chose to say about himself was that Jesus loved him.
And, as we stand with John tonight at the foot of the Cross, is there anything more important that can we say about ourselves? All of us here tonight have very different stories. We have lots of different experiences and memories, all kinds of unique joys and sorrows. But each and every one of us can say this about ourselves. “I am one whom Jesus loves.” And there is nothing more important than that.
The second person who stands here with us is Mary, the mother of Jesus. All of us who have lost a child will have some idea of the pain Mary was experiencing in those dark hours, but it is almost impossible to imagine the full horror of seeing her son betrayed and tortured and killed as Jesus was. Mary must surely have been remembering the day of Jesus’s dedication in the Temple, when the old man Simeon held her baby son in his arms, when he turned to her and said, “A sword is going to pierce your own soul.”
We are so close to the feet of our Lord that we can hear his voice, speaking to his mother and his young friend in loving concern. “Woman,” he says to his mother, “look at this young man. From now on he will be your own son.” And to John, “From this day she is your own mother.” And John tells us that from that very hour he took Mary into his own home. As we stand with Mary and John at Jesus’s feet, we hear his call to care tenderly for each other, taking one another into our hearts as our own flesh and blood.
There are three Marys standing near the Cross. Beside Jesus’s mother, there is also Mary the wife of Clopas, who is her close relative. On the day of the Resurrection, Luke tells the story of a man named Cleopas and another disciple, who are traveling the long road home from Jerusalem, weary and broken-hearted at the death of Jesus and the loss of all their hopes. They don’t recognize Jesus as he strikes up a conversation with them, but when they reach Emmaus they kindly invite this stranger in for dinner and a bed for the night. And at the table, as soon as Jesus breaks the loaf of bread in blessing, suddenly their eyes are opened and they recognize their Lord. Jesus disappears then, and the two run the whole seven miles back to Jerusalem to proclaim the news that they have seen the Lord! Alive! I believe it’s very likely that these two disciples are the second Mary and her husband. As we stand with her at the foot of the Cross, are our broken hearts prepared to receive Jesus in the breaking of the bread on Easter morning, fully alive and present with us? Are our hearts, too, burning within us in these holy days, as we listen to the story of God’s love for us?
The third Mary, of course, is Mary Magdalene, about whom a vast amount of misinformation has been told. What do we know about this Mary? We know that Mary from the town of Magdala was healed by Jesus of seven demons. Demon possession in the first century was a way of expressing a wide variety of serious and frightening illnesses, including epilepsy and mental illnesses as well as ailments of a spiritual nature. And so we know that Mary was seriously and incurably sick, and that Jesus made her well and whole again. It is often assumed that Mary had been a notorious woman, a prostitute, or an adulteress, but there isn’t anything in the gospels that indicate this, although Jesus had no qualms associating with prostitutes or tax collectors or any other people that were dismissed as mere riffraff. What we do know about Mary Magdalene is that she was chosen to be the first person to see Jesus alive after the Resurrection, and it is hard to imagine a greater honor. A woman of great faith and devotion to Jesus, she was the first witness to the risen Lord.
In a time when women were held of little worth and less importance, we see here, at the foot of his Cross, that our Lord held women in the highest regard. And because Jesus valued women, and the poor, and lepers, and foreigners, and little children, and sinners of all kinds, as people of great value, beloved of the Father, we too welcome all whom the world dismisses as worthless: the outcasts, the refugees, prisoners and addicts, the disabled, the very old and the very young. Because our Lord loved all these, we open our arms and our hearts to them.
Tonight we gather at the foot of the Cross. Our hearts are broken, and at the same time our hearts are full. We re-member this night the terrible hours of our Lord’s death. But tonight and forever we remember also the love that brought Jesus to the cross, the love that surrounded Jesus even at the very last, and the love he handed down to us to minister to all people in his name.