A reading and a reflection
St John 19: 25 – 30
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
What an emotionally charged reading this is for a Tuesday morning in July. This narrative is at the heart of our faith. Volumes of books, articles and undergraduate essays have been written about atonement, sacrifice and suffering and all the details surrounding them but ultimately it boils down to a tortuous death by execution witnessed by the closest family in the depths of despair. We are often reluctant to stay in this moment especially as we know the end of the story is coming very soon.
As a teenager singing JS Bach’s St Matthew Passion annually the most moving moment of an overwhelming musical experience was always the profound silence after the death of Jesus. The conductor would lay down her baton and simply stand for what seemed like an eternity. In that moment everything stopped. In that moment sounds ceased and you could barely breathe. You were remembering and entering into a turning point in history that could never be undone.
Of course the music then moved on as the narrative moves on. Practicalities click in very quickly. After all Jesus died just before the sabbath started and things had to be done at speed and this is mirrored in Bach’s setting of the story. There are loose ends to be tied up, arrangements to be made, rituals to be honoured.
But in the end all is silence. All we can do is dwell in that silence for as long as we can bear it for therein lies our own discovery of what salvation means to each one of us and to the world. No book, no essay, no sermon can persuade or convince us at this moment of Jesus’ death. It is in the silence that truth and meaning are found.
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly-minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.
(from the Litany of St. James, written in the 4th Century)