Friday, March 29, 2013

Familial Exchange: a Good Friday Meditation

Meditations on the Seven Last Words of Jesus 
Marsh Chapel, Boston University
Good Friday, March 29, 2013

1) Father forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34)
2) Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me i
n paradise (Luke 23:43)
3) Woman, behold your son: behold your mother (John 19:26-27)
4) My God, My God, why have you forsaken me, (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34)
5) I thirst (John 19:28)
6) It is finished (John 19:30)
7) Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46)

John 19: 23-27

23When 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. 24So 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.’

25And 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. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ 27Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

In the midst of community we are estranged. In the midst of alienation, community is formed afresh.

The scene before us is unimaginably bleak.  An innocent man hangs before us, being stripped of life.  His loved ones look on from near and afar, nearly crushed by pain.  Yet in the midst of utter desolation, Jesus inaugurates a new creation.  A new community, a transformed family.  To his mother he says, “Woman, here is your son.”  To the beloved disciple, “here is your mother.”  “From that hour,” the gospel reports, “the disciple took her into his own home.” 

Strange as it may seem, this passage echoes the first miracle story in the Gospel of John.  Seeing a connection between this story and our passage, the sixth century Byzantine Hymnist Romanos imagined a grieving Mary querying her son, “Is there once again another wedding at Cana?”[1]   In the second chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus had declared to his mother, who was concerned about the depleted wine supply, “Woman… my hour has not yet come” (John 2:3-4).  He had gone on to transform the contents of six water jars into the finest of wines.  Now, standing in “the hour” of his death, the formation of family has become once more an occasion of transformation.  To and for his beloveds, Jesus performs a relational exchange: I now pronounce you mother and son.

In this week in which the Supreme Court oral arguments on Proposition Eight and DOMA have saturated the airwaves, the transformation of community, of family, of marriage, are much on our minds and hearts.  In a poignant column this week, a fellow Episcopal priest, the Reverend Canon Susan Russell, evoked how painful – and for LGBT people and our families, how triggering – it can be to hear these arguments.
If you find yourself hurting, angry, anxious, scared or snarky reach out and let someone you love remind you that you're loved… And if you know someone who may not reach out, find them where they are and remind them that they're loved.[2]

In this week of “heightened scrutiny,” Jesus’ words reach across the chasms of fear.  For we are family, all of us.  We are made for one another.  However fraught our communion, however intense our disagreement, however frayed our fabric, we are constantly being knit afresh. 

Like Jesus’ garment for which the soldiers cast lots, we are called to be one, mysteriously,seamlessly woven from above.  In this light, the fourth century theologian Ephrem the Syrian challenges us, “Share then, for love of [Christ], the body of him who, for the love of you, shared his garment between those who were crucifying him.”[3] This body of which we all are members: share it.  This is the message we receive at the foot of the cross, that ultimate symbol of stigma and alienation that turns death and division on its head.  This is my body.  This is your family.  Take, absorb, share it in its entirety.  Fling wide the doors of your heart.  Be transformed.

photo from
Cameron Partridge is the Episcopal Chaplain at Boston University and a Lecturer at Harvard Divinity School

[1] Romanos the Melodist, “On the Lament of the Mother of God,” stanza 1. 
[2] Susan Russell, “The Marriage Equality Debates: The Pastoral in the Political” 
[3] Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on the Diatessaron 20.27

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