Left in Each Other’s Care

john-cross-footA sermon preached by Rev. Cheryl Meachen at the Ecumenical Good Friday Service in Brattleboro VT on April 18, 2014

SCRIPTURE: John 19: 19-27

Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth,* the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew,* in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.”’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’ When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfill what the scripture says, ‘They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.’ And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

MEDITATION ON THE THIRD WORD: “Woman, behold your son…behold your mother!”

Rev. Cheryl Meachen, First United Methodist Church

Thanks be to God. What beautiful Scripture! The Gospel of John takes my breath away! It is ALL about love, ALL about restoring wholeness, ALL about relationship, through and through. Even in the littlest words. Jesus OF Nazareth. The Gospel of John takes time to note that Jesus is of Nazareth, a part of that place, one of their peeps, one of our peeps, a human being, OF us.

And then, another little word, this one with not two but four letters: NEAR. The place where this all happened was near the city, not a news story that has little to do with us in a far away land, but something that affects all of us, that we all can see, that impacts our lives in a profound way. There are so many ways in which we seek Jesus’ nearness. We crave his closeness, but on this day, this was all too close for the chief priests who couldn’t stand that Pilate wrote “The King of the Jews” on a sign above Jesus’ head. They were furious to be connected with him in that way, furious that he was being named as their representative, furious to be a part of his circle.

As the scripture goes on, we learn that the soldiers DIVIDED his clothing. Just as this world would seek to divide us from one another; this symbolic thing took place, the soldiers separated his clothing from his person and from other articles of his clothing. Do you see the connection here? We are ripped from our loving relationship with God when we doubt. We are torn from our loving relationships with each other when we become fearful or jealous or proud. But Jesus’ aim was to unite us, to establish relationship; to strengthen the bonds – mother and son, brother and sister and so the metaphor continues: his tunic was seamless – a metaphor for the wholeness of God’s relationship with son. A metaphor for the unending nature of God’s relationship with us. A metaphor of Jesus’ desire for our relationship with each other to be unbroken. Miraculously the soldiers recognized the value in what they saw. They knew that they should not destroy that sacred wholeness. For them it was simply a garment, but they saw the value of a singly woven piece of cloth. There was something special. And that’s how it begins for us, isn’t it? We see the value of relationship with Jesus, with God, with each other. We don’t always understand the depth and richness and implication, but we know it’s worth something.

It is all about relationship, friends. All about Loving God and Loving Neighbor. Of course there are some special relationships that society points to in our lives. Popular culture loves to capitalize on themes of Daddy’s little girl or the mama’s boy or the loyal brother or sacrificing friend in movie plots. Not everyone experiences the perfect Hollywood script in their lives though. Some of us have deeply dysfunctional families or painful memories of lost friendships, but one relationship that I happen to experience deeply is that of mother and son so this word from the Good Friday Liturgy speaks to me rather profoundly in nuanced ways.

I’ve always thought that the mother/son relationship was fascinating and beautiful. As I watched my mother and my brother while I was growing up, I was always a little jealous of their special banter. Boys have a way of teasing that is incomparable. He was always pushing her buttons just short of being completely obnoxious; always pushing his limits, just short of getting in trouble, because she loved us. She would forgive our little indiscretions as she gently taught us how to be polite and moral human beings. At the time, I thought that kind of relationship was simply what they had with each other but when I met my sister-in-law, I saw a very similar relationship between she and her son and I began to see in others that this mother/son relationship had some very special characteristics. Of course, those characteristics include a never-ending litany of jokes about bodily functions, and rocks, as well as frogs and salamanders in pants pockets in the laundry basket and constant poking, always the poking… but there is a warm and reciprocal sweetness between mother and son that is unparalleled.

Even later in life as my mother-in-law aged and her husband passed on I would notice that sweet attentiveness her son would pay her, doing those chores that required strength, you know, like opening the pickle jar or getting on the roof to fix something or other. My husband would carefully attend to his mom’s needs.

There is a children’s book called “Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch that shows the wholeness of the life cycle of that beautiful mother/son relationship: Mom caring for her infant Son and later Son caring for his elderly Mom.

I confess that when I was pregnant for the first time, I did not say the politically correct thing, that I “didn’t care whether it was a boy or girl, just as long as the baby was healthy.” I really wanted a boy but I had a girl…and I was overjoyed. She is my heart. Then I had my second child. I had a boy and I finally got to see and feel it first hand. This mother/son thing IS all it is cracked up to be: the teasing, the frogs, the booger jokes, the poking, the unconditional love, the whole of it. It is a precious thing. This relationship that I’ve been blessed with for 16 years now, even this week with a new student driver trying out his parallel parking chops, shows me more about my relationship with God than any other: the pure love, the deep understanding, the genuine repentance, the unconditional forgiveness…God as mother rings true in my heart in a very real way.

Mary, the mother of Jesus only appears twice in the Gospel of John and interestingly, she appears at the beginning and at the end of his ministry: first at the wedding at Cana where she is his biggest fan. She is completely confident, even expectant, of his ability to change the water into wine and now here at the cross, where his life—his mortal life will end. Mary and Jesus’ experience that day is tragic. It is painful. The suffering is palpable even to us here, more than 2000 years later. Not only was Mary, Jesus’ human mother, experiencing the pain of watching her precious child die a horrible, bloody, cruel, unjust death; but she was the Mary of Luke’s Gospel, she who is highly favored, she who is deeply spiritual and receptive and understanding of God and especially of what it means to bring the son of God into the world and witness his leaving and what that means to all of us. She, perhaps more than others, might have known that Jesus was abandoned by God that day so that we would not be.

In fact, in this crucial moment in the Gospel narrative, Jesus looks down from the cross upon the beloved disciple and his highly favored mother and he invites them to wholeness. Jesus invites them to be in relationship with one another, and not just any relationship, that very special relationship of mother and son. Jesus sincerely desires that neither be left alone—that none of us is left alone.

It is widely believed that Mary is the representative of the church, the believing community and the disciple is the representative of every individual believer. This scripture beautifully shows us that in his final act on earth Jesus entrusts the care of his church to those who love him and believe in him. Woman, here is your son. Church, here is your believer. Son, here is your mother. Believer, here is your church.

It’s important to note that the promise of relationship, the promise of wholeness doesn’t mean that we aren’t all still growing or struggling or suffering. We have work to do together. Author, Brene Brown of TED Talk fame makes an important point about the church acting more like a midwife than an epidural. You know, more waiting with us—walking with all of us and telling us to push through our pain than acting as an anesthetic to our suffering. Our job as a church isn’t to promote magical thinking saying things like: “it will all be better somehow in the end” NO! Jesus has left us with so much more than vapid platitudes. Jesus has left us in each other’s care to be there for each other. Jesus has entrusted us with the care of the church, that it might break the systems of oppression and participate in the restoration of wholeness to creation.

What Jesus has left us with is too important to misunderstand. We have been given the most precious thing imaginable: relationship! Relationship with God and relationship with our fellow human beings. It’s pretty clear. He says it a lot: Love God. Love Neighbor.

The bottom line is that relationship doesn’t look like magazine covers. It doesn’t look like unicorns and rainbows. It looks like Jesus dying on the cross. It looks like your beloved son being tortured and beaten. It looks like the precious hope of the world being extinguished. Love is hard. The promise is that Jesus has left us in each other’s care to be the believers and to be the church. Thanks be to God!



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