A brief homily for a Good Friday service from an empty church
After his arrest in the garden, we are told, Jesus’ disciples scattered and fled; but at least two of them ended up in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house, listening in on the trial. And several of them gathered near the Cross, to bear witness to his suffering, to his death. Was it one of them that offered him sour wine, mixed with myrrh, to ease his burden at the end? And there was Joseph, and the women, who claimed him and tended to his poor, dear body after all was said and done.
We have heard stories of patients dying alone in nursing homes and hospitals and we are horrified. The loneliness of death frightens us already, and these stories compound our fear. But there are still those in attendance. There are those offering medicine on hyssop branches. The respiratory therapists whose work is that of the Holy Spirit, breathing life back into the world. Those who come from Arimathea to take care of the dead. And the women, and men, with their water and wipes, their sprays and their cleaning fluids, mopping up and down the wards, who visit the rooms of the living and the dead.
And we have the telephone and other technologies that keep us in touch – thank God for the creativity with which we were endowed.
But we are rightly afraid, I am afraid that I will be unequal to my promises, the promise of Peter, though all become deserters, to stay with you, to stay near you, come what may.
I am unequal to my promises, but Jesus is not. If nothing else, he proved that on the Cross.
Even those who do die truly alone, who have died or will die crying out; as soon as the words have left their lips, or are formed in their imagination, they are echoed by Christ on the Cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, and are so far from my cry and my distress? Even in that moment, especially in that moment, we are not alone, Christ is with us, crying out our own prayers, and answering them.
When he promised the thief that he would see him in paradise, Jesus did not only promise him heaven. Today, he said, you will be with me.
No one dies alone. Jesus took care of that on the Cross. “For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord, and if we die, we die in the Lord,” as the burial service affirms on our behalf.
After three hours, it looked as though all was ended. That Jesus was finished. The disciples, bereft and bewildered, withdrew, alone and together, to await – what? They did not know, they could not imagine, when they would see him again, how they would get along without him.
But before they scattered from the garden, before they broke bread, before he was betrayed he told them, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”
If the Cross proclaims that no one dies alone, then the life of Christ promises that no one lives alone. Even when the hillside has fallen silent, and the tomb has been sealed with a stone, and the people have retreated each to their own home, the work of Resurrection, subtle and silent, has begun. God’s mercy endures forever.