Good Friday Reflection
April 10, 2009
Douglas M. Donley
University Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN
“Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Oh sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?”
“Woman, behold your son.” We look at him on the tree. We want to avert our eyes, look away. But like magnets, we can’t resist the force. We look and we weep. We weep for him.
We weep for his pain. We weep for the indifference of the world to such suffering and pain.
We weep for the blows that he has taken.
We want to look away, to run away, to flee. Many of us do. But even if we are far away, we can’t avoid the spectacle, the rejoicing over his crucifixion, the cries and confusion of his friends, our friends, the implication for us. We know it could be us, too. If we had only been more forthright? More brave? More committed? Less forward-thinking—now that’s sacrilegious. Don’t go there. This was destined to happen. But the thief to the left of Jesus speaks truth. “If you are the son of God, save yourself.” Save yourself.
Could he understand that the you of yourself includes all of us sitting at the base of the cross or hiding in relative safety? Save yourself, indeed. Save us from this time of trial. Save us from pain. Save us from confusion. Save us from the feelings of futility with which we live. Save yourself. God, save Yourself. Save me.
We wonder why God has forsaken Jesus. We ponder what God’s seeming absence is all about. We think about all of the people betrayed and crucified. “Mother, behold your son.”
“Behold your mother”, says Jesus to the disciple who Jesus loved. What an enigmatic phrase. She’s not his mother, she’s Jesus’ mother. But maybe it’s not as confusing as we make it out to be. Mary looks to Jesus and sees him on the cross, dying—his last words on his tongue. And Jesus says look at me. Behold your son.
But he doesn’t end there. He says to the beloved disciple, “behold your mother.” He is saying that while we are on this earth, we are to look at the grieving and recognize their need. Look at her because she knows what life is really like.
It’s not all resurrection and that will come. It’s also about pain and sorrow and finding a way to live through all of that. Behold your mother. Look at her, even though it’s hard to do so. Look at her messy grief. Look at her sorrow. Look at her pain.
But look beyond that, too. Look at her wisdom that is borne of her tears. Look at her inability to settle for trite religious platitudes. Look at your mother and remember that there are people hurting and that the work of people of faith is not only to relieve her suffering, but to hear her wisdom. It’s to put in place a world where suffering ought not to be facilitated by greed, by bigotry, by arrogance, by the feeling that we are our own gods and we control our destiny. Behold your mother and remember that you are connected in a web of destiny with the rest of the world.
Look at your mother because she holds a mirror up to your face and confronts you with who you are. Look at the people who are hurting, in Italy, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Sudan, Somalia, in Liberia, in Zimbabwe, in Oklahoma and Arkansas, in North Minneapolis. Behold your mother. Behold and hear her wisdom, born of tears. Hear her cries. Resist the temptation to say, “it’s all right” when it isn’t.
But don’t stop there, be so moved by her wisdom that you find a way to relieve suffering in the world. It’s her suffering. It’s Jesus’ suffering. It’s our suffering. It’s all connected.
“Oh sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”
Yes it does. Pay attention to the trembling. Pay attention to the discomfort. For in it, is your God-given wisdom. Jesus says, “Mother, behold your son.” Then he says, “behold your mother.” Behold each other. Listen to the grief, hurry not from it. May it make you tremble. And through it may you find your voice.
“Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?”