This melancholy lyric is sung by countless congregations on Good Friday. It is so beloved that I once saw a liturgy committee nearly explode when the music director suggested replacing it with another hymn. The discussion took two hours to resolve. The song stayed.
I am in the midst of preparing a retreat on the people of the Passion – those who were there at various points during Jesus’ trial, scourging, journey to Golgotha, crucifixion, and death. Peter’s denial and the centurion’s statement of faith stand in deep contrast to one another. They remind us that we who call ourselves believers aren’t always the most reliable. Mary’s anguish and John’s tender charge to care for her are heartbreakingly tender moments that speak of a mother’s devotion and a son’s concern for her welfare. Mary Magdalene’s staunch faith must have been sorely tested through witnessing such excruciating events. Simon of Cyrene, an unknowing bystander, is pulled into the scene against his will and yet journeys all the way with Jesus to the cross. Each character brings a humanizing depth to the Passion that provides insight into what it was like to be there.
As I ponder the Passion, it strikes me that we are all too eager to move past Good Friday in order to get to Easter Sunday. In many books and meditations I continually find references to these characters, particularly Mary, that portray them as serene and knowing by the time Jesus is taken down from the cross. It seems to do them a disservice and to shortchange the very real experience of grief, loss, and anguish that beset them all.
Over the weekend I learned that the husbands of two of my friends have died. It brings to mind the difficulty of taking on our own “passions”. Death of a beloved one is not grasped in the moment nor is it explained away with platitudes. We live in a culture, however, that fears death. As a result, we often flee from those in deep mourning and find ourselves unable to cope with the reality of loss. The people of the Passion do neither of these things. Each stays within the moment so that, in time, he or she is able to rejoice in the hope of a new dawn when life is restored in new and unimaginable ways.
Download my Stations of the Cross meditation cards and use them with your family or class to reflect upon the Passion and death of Jesus.
Offer comfort and compassion to someone who has experienced the death of a loved one over the past several months. Send a card, make a phone call, or pay a visit to let her or him know you care.