Passion text: John 18:1- 19:42
This week I was driving through Hollidaysburg and I spotted a very black billow of smoke rising into the air. My immediate reaction was alarm; something was on fire! But the billow was short lived. It turned out to be only a puff drifting up into the sky. A moment later another black cloud went heavenward. This time I followed the smoke downward where it stopped at its source: the chimney of a local funeral home and crematory. A building wasn’t on fire, a body was. With that realization my alarm dissipated into a moment of solemnity.
Death carries a weight with it, a weight that is immeasurable and invisible, yet we feel every ounce of it. That weight, which we can also call grief, makes this holy day so very different in our church calendar as we read and remember the arrest, trial, crucifixion, and death of our savior Jesus Christ. This feeling is why many people have difficulties attending the Good Friday service.
This year, part of me knows the weight of death all too well. We have had a string of losses in our congregation which have been hard to bear. Deaths from cancer, organ failure, old age, and also Covid-19. Of course, the pandemic is constantly in the background and the casualty counter is quietly clicking upwards: over 300 people have died of Covid in Blair County; nearly 25,000 in the state of Pennsylvania; 550,000 people in the United States. It’s easy to feel numb and indifferent to those staggering numbers, but when I sit and ponder how many families have been changed by this disease I feel that terrible weight draped over me.
Tonight, we remember that this feeling is not only universal, but it is shared by God. As we read about Good Friday’s unfolding events, think about how God must have felt to experience this weightiness of grief. Think about what it means for God to taste death as God the Son breathes his last.
This night we witness that God feels the same sting of death and grief that we all know as Jesus hangs on the cross. We witness that in Jesus we are united with God in this reality of mortality. God knows the horrible weight of death just like we do.
Even though we know the end of this story it does not make it any easier to hear, in the same way that our baptismal promises do not make burying a loved one any easier to bear. As we read the Passion and invite the words of scripture to preach themselves, pay attention to the grief that we all carry for Jesus and then remember that we are bound by something more than that weightiness; for we are united in a death like his, and one day we will certainly be reunited with what happens next. AMEN