Scripture reading (which you may wish to read prior):
We sometimes go through seasons
where it feels like everyone we know is suffering.
–That project at work is keeping a spouse up at night.
–A sister’s chemotherapy is making you lose your appetite as well.
–You hear of the death of someone at the middle school
And you hold you kid close,
all too aware of our inability to shield our loved ones from danger.
These moments weigh us down.
If its ok to share with you my own weight,
what broke me this week was news of the death of the Reverend Buddy Monahan.
Buddy served with me on the board of the Presbyterian Mission Agency
He was the interim pastor of a church in Odessa, Texas
Chair of the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns
of the denomination we call home, the Presbyterian Church USA
and a proud, full-blooded member of the Choctaw Nation
one of the first peoples of this land.
For a decade or so, Buddy was the chaplain of the Menaul School in Albuquerque
An important institution for the education and advancement of native peoples.
And he had almost a constant broad smile that could blind you.
News of his car crash came across social media on Tuesday,
Just a few hours after I had booked travel
for my final meeting of the board in April.
At 52, he left behind a congregation during holy week
A wife and three kids
Friends and colleagues who respected him beyond measure.
He is the second board member to die this year.
The other, Susan Osoinach, was a ruling elder, also from Texas
Who had been fighting cancer for a year. She died a month ago.
She taught French at a local high school
She read ordination exams for people who wanted to become ministers
And she chaired the power and privilege ministerial team for the board.
Susan was always sending me these quiet facebook messages like
“Thank you so much for wearing your robe and stole
at the executive order signing.
Thank you for standing up as a “man of the cloth.”
Thank you for taking a public stance as a Christian. Thank you.”
I’ve been thinking about friends and colleagues and fragility,
That’s what has weighed me down this week.
And I know, as I look at you, that you are weighed down by your own stuff.
Some of which I’ve been honored to know, and to share with you
And other things that you carry alone.
Today is actually an important day for us,
people who carry the burdens of life
Who know grief, and pain, and suffering.
Who worry about it for our loved ones,
and try to hold it at bay for as long as we can.
Who see it coming for ourselves, some day far, or near.
Who mourn the death of those we love, some recently, some long ago.
I couldn’t help but think about John Donne’s famous sonnet
Death be Not Proud, where he tries his best to laugh at the face of mortality
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful,
for thou art not so,
For those, whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Nor yet can’st thou kill me, from rest and sleep
Which but thy pictures be.
Much pleasure, then, from thee
Much more must flow
And soonest our best men with thee do go
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep, as well
And better than by thy stroke.
Why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake, eternally,
And death shall be no more.
Death, thou shalt die.
It’s a brave affirmation to make, on this side of mortality.
In this age marked by all the things that divide us
This experience is maybe one of those universal things that all people know.
As we shake our fist at that scourge, that monstrosity.
Death be not proud, indeed.
Today we sit where Jesus does
Or with his disciples, if that is a better place for you to find yourself in the story
Facing the stark reality of death and dying, the things we do to keep it at bay.
Good Friday is the day we sit at vigil when our Lord Jesus dies.
The gospels are all different, in how they describe it.
Some of them will have Jesus quote from the Psalms while on the cross:
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me”
A reminder to us that Jesus knew his scripture
And, maybe something we don’t always remember
That the psalm from which Jesus quotes, Psalm 22,
ends with promise:
The poor shall eat, and be satisfied
Those who seek him shall praise the lord
May your hearts live forever!
Another will have the earth shake and the temple stones rend apart.
That’s an apt emotional description
of what it feels like when one we love dies.
They’re different, the Gospels, in how they describe it:
In our reading today, Jesus declares “It is finished”
And in another, it simply says “Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last”
They’re different because we each experience the suffering,
the death of one we love differently,
weaving together our own psyche, our own spirit
with the suffering we encounter.
But each of the stories has him die.
And they take him down, and they bury him in the ground.
Earth to Earth
Ashes to Ashes
Dust unto dust.
This isn’t how the story is supposed to end.
Jesus was supposed to triumph!
Jesus was supposed to herald God’s reign on earth!
But no. Jesus dies, upon a cross, lifeless and still.
Even at the end, Jesus was trying to teach us something.
I’m not sure I always saw it, all the other times I’ve read this text
But something comforted me tonight.
Some preachers won’t allow for comfort, on Good Friday
Because they want us to come to grips with the finality of everything.
I get that. There isn’t ultimate comfort here. Not tonight. Not on Friday night.
But did you notice, in our reading from John’s version of events
What Jesus was saying to those he loved
Those who were at the foot of the cross
Sitting vigil as he died.
Standing near the cross were Mary, Jesus’ mother.
And Mary, the wife of Clopas,
And Mary, from Magdala.
And also a disciple, beloved of Jesus.
They are there at bedside, so to speak
And Jesus sees them
What did they look like, do you think?
What expressions did they allow?
Did they steel their resolve
Adopt a stiff upper lip?
Were they weeping?
Jesus sees them: and offers them something of comfort:
“Mother, here is your son,” he says of the disciple.
To him he says “There is your mother.”
And from that hour, John says, they are bonded together
In a common experience, a new family together.
Jesus, dying, reminds his loved ones that they are not alone.
God’s love ties us together in so many powerful, healing, helpful ways.
They do not need to suffer in grief alone.
They have one another. The bonds of human friendship are there
To help see us through these difficult times
When we don’t know what tomorrow might look like.
We don’t need to suffer our grief alone.
I’m not sure why that never stood out to me before
But there it was, this week, as I stood agape at news that my friend had died
As I joined in prayer and in mourning with hundreds of thousands of those
Who knew him and who loved him.
We all know the failures and foibles of social media
But in that moment there was nothing but the broad arms of God
Holding us together, brothers and sisters, sons and parents
Grateful for a life well lived and taken far too soon.
We don’t need to suffer our grief alone.
Jesus, even in his final, dying moments, gives us one more gift of grace
A reminder for us to turn to one another when we are in grief
A lesson to lift up the one next to us when they are in sorrow
To help one another when we need it the very most.
And then its done. Spirit is given up. Head lowered.
Jesus Christ is dead.
What is next, that’s unclear.
The future always is obscure when someone we love dies.
But we depart, hearts heavy
But not alone
Walking together into tomorrow
When we await another day, to see what God has in store for us.
I’m so glad I have you to grieve with.
And I’m so grateful I can be there for you when you need me too.
The ways of God are so amazing.
Even when things are the bleakest.
May we know that the steadfast love of God is there
Even in our grief.
Even on nights like tonight.
May it be so.