I feel as if this whole journey has been drawing me to this day. I’ve even been looking forward to this, the celebration of the crucifixion. Writing random notes all week under the heading Day Thirty-nine. Why? Why am I drawn so adamantly here? In what other context would I anticipate remembering, even celebrating murder? For in one sense that’s what I celebrate, a murder. But then there is the voice of the One I love saying He could call down a legion of angels if need be. He did not lose His authority with His humanity. He chose. That truth’s so large I’m not sure I can really take it in. So today I’m just going to share some of my scattered impressions at the cross.
Jesus’ mother, his aunt, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the cross. John 19:25 MSG At the foot of the cross stood His mother. I have always thought of the agony of that from Mary’s point of view. It’s only this year that I see mercy and grace even here. In mere hours Jesus’ Father, God, who has always been in relationship with Him, turns away from the Son shrouded in sin. But grace is given to the Bringer of grace. Jesus is not left orphaned. His mother watches, longing to comfort. When I hurt I want my mama. God gave Jesus His mama in that moment. So I wonder if it was comforting to have her there. Or was it more painful to watch her pain? And for Mary, God gave her sister. Have you ever noticed that? Jesus aunt, his mother’s sister, stood at the foot of the cross, as close as they could get to Him, and wept. Sister comforting sister, mother trying to comfort son, and son providing protection for mother, as He asks John to care for her. Even in utter devastation God reveals himself as relentlessly relational.
Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34 MSG A few years ago I heard a pastor talk about this verse in such a fresh way that I will never look at it the same way again. The bible says that sins are removed, washed away because of Jesus’ blood. At this point He had been tortured to a bloody pulp. He wasn’t even recognizable as a man when they nailed Him up high. Before the wood was done rocking in its base the red life was soaking into the grain, mercy dripping down. And Jesus did not want to wait for death. Forgiveness, this was the point. He anxiously anticipated the pay off being released. Father, my blood is flowing, release the forgiveness. Let the flood of amazing grace drench them now! To see Jesus in agony anxious to love, to forgive, to make this all worthwhile wrenches my own heart with love in return.
At three o'clock, Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" Mark 15:34 MSG This is the moment when the fabric of the universe was torn asunder. The ever living, ever-loving God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit: broken. And Jesus was abandoned to die. Yes, there was a plan. But Jesus was 100% God and 100% human. I can only imagine that in this moment He didn’t feel a plan, just the harrowing pain of rejection and abandonment. God retreated from the Son; turned His weeping back and walked away. No connection, no comfort, no love just empty darkness. In the echoing void Jesus had to throw those words, “It is finished… Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit,” based on faith alone. He no longer had any sense of connection to God or proof that the relationship would be restored. Jesus had to blindly obey in faith. So every rejection I have felt, every lonely moment, every betrayal, every abandonment by those I thought would protect me, He has been there. When I have felt abandoned by God, He was. The whys and the how could You's, He has been there. The obedience in the dark with only a chosen belief that God is all that He says He is in the bible with no supporting evidence, Jesus did that too.
Truly, how could I stay angry when faced with such towering love?
Today is the day that Jesus’ body lay silent, broken and unmoving in the dark. His soul already laying claim to the keys of death and hell, his body just lay; even in death, observing the Sabbath. So on the seventh day He rested from all His work. Genesis 2:2 But his friends were also in the dark, hiding. The disciples had all run to ground. And can you imagine their fear of discovery, Will they kill me next? Their deep and consuming grief, He’s dead, they just murdered Him. He’s gone. Their confusion, This wasn’t how the Messiah thing was supposed to work! And so they cowered, in back rooms, dusty closets, obscure guest quarters, scattered across Jerusalem, perhaps in twos or threes. Can you see them huddled around banked fires, whispering? Do you think they began, even then, to tell each other the stories of what Jesus had done, what they had seen with their own eyes as they tried to put their shattered hopes back together piece by piece?
As we wait today, quiet in memory of all that was so seemingly lost; will you hunker down with me in a darkened room and listen to a story? This is really a Good Friday story, but truthfully, I can’t imagine that their own Good Friday story left the disciples minds for a moment that Sabbath day.
My story begins with the shrill ring of a phone early in the morning. I bury my face deeper into the pillows, resentful of this intrusion into my final high school spring break. Suddenly my bedroom door opens and one of my parents walks in, kicking aside the clothes that always piled up on the floor. Funny, I don’t remember if it was my mom or dad, probably my mom. “That was a social worker, “she whispers, her eyes urgent, her voice strangled, “your brother has been in an accident. We have to leave now for Palm Springs. They said he hit his head.” I jump out of bed tears already stinging my eyes and walk out to the dining room where my dad is getting ready to leave. His face is grey, etched with worry. The doorbell rings.
Our neighbors from down the street stand on the doorstep, tense and hurried. They offer to carpool to the hospital over an hour away. They’ve already spoken to their own son, the driver. DBB was thrown, he said, out of a window. No seatbelt. Panic rises; threatening to cut off my airways as in the background I hear the angry expletive fly with a fist slamming against a table. I know that I am not the only one overtaken by terror. With an “I love you” and “We’ll call as soon as we get there.” my parents are gone and I am left alone in the suddenly silent house to wait.
Hours go by. I have made the difficult and necessary calls to kin. And now I wait, sure that they’ll just pick him up from the ER waiting room, bandaged and chagrined. The shrill ring again pierces the silence and the voice I long to hear, my mom, says, “It’s ok. He’s on a respirator and they’re taking him for a CAT scan and MRI now; they don’t think his back is broken. But they want to be sure”
They don’t think his back is broken. The words hang in the air like icy daggers aimed at my heart. I have only one brother and at 16 months apart, irish twins, the scars and the passion between us is immeasurable. I’m the big sister. It has always been my job to protect him, and now they don’t know if his back is broken!
Later my mother calls again. He is in the ICU resting in a medically-induced coma; another body laying at rest, but this one breathing, with help. My dad won’t leave his side. "There is no spinal injury," she says, rejoicing, "but they don’t know yet how much reconstructive surgery he will need on his face."
What baffles me is that every time she calls my mom sounds as if she is relaying good news. And with each announcement my sense of danger grows. I didn’t walk into the hospital 100 miles away with them. I did not see their boy lying inert, clothes torn and bloodied, asphalt ground into gashes and long burns. I did not beg the Lord at my son’s bedside “Lord you gave Your Son, let me keep mine.” My shock did not flood in. My pain arrived in waves, with each shrill ring of the phone.
There’s more to this story: parts too long to share here. Mercy after mercy. After flying through the back window of a rolling SUV, my brother had no permanent injuries. Not even one broken bone. And then there’s this testimony from the other two guys in the car: DBB was thrown out on the first roll, the car barrel rolling toward him to crush him when for no apparent reason (an angel or maybe even the hand of God) the SUV turned to roll in another direction, missing him completely. That year we celebrated Easter with my brother being released from the ICU. I spent the day in the hospital talking with my swollen, orange brillo-pad headed, beautiful brother. Resurrection of hope all over again.