Deacon Sue Nebel
It has grown so quiet. It all seems so long ago, the noise and commotion of the morning. The drama of the confrontation between Jesus and Pilate. The arguments and backpedaling of Pilate and the Jewish leaders. Both sides trying to rid themselves of responsibility for condemning Jesus to death. The shouts of the chief priests and guards, demanding that he be crucifed. Later, cruel taunts hurled at Jesus as he hangs on the Cross. Now it is over. Jesus and the two criminals who were crucified alongside him are dead. The crowds have dispersed, rushing off to reach home before sundown. The women and the Beloved Disciple waited until the bodies were lowered to the ground, so that Mary could hold her son one last time. Surrounding the grieving woman, the others then led her away. The soldiers too have left, carrying the bodies of the two other men, probably to a common grave.
In the fading light, two figures. Joseph of Arimathea, a Jew of high enough standing that Pilate has granted his request to be given the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who has become a follower of Jesus. The two men move quickly with their burden, because the body must be buried before sundown. In a nearby garden, they wrap Jesus’ body in spices and cloth and place it in a new, unused tomb. The women will come later, after the Sabbath, to complete the preparation for burial. Their work done, the two men depart. Darkness settles over the garden.
Darkness, despair, grief. With the death of Jesus, all hope seems lost. What now? His followers promised to be faithful, to journey with him and then did, all the way to the Cross. What do they do now? They do what people have done for ages in the face of unexpected change or loss that upends their lives. In need of a sense of order and structure in the midst of confusion and chaos, they turn to the rituals of their traditions. They engage in actions that enable them to conclude one part of a story and take the first awkward steps forward into an uncertain future.
Like the early followers of Jesus, we too have promised to follow Jesus. We made a promise in our baptism, a promise that we renew from time to time. We pledged to accept Jesus as our Lord. To be loyal, faithful to him. To follow him. To journey with him on a path that will lead to the final days of his life. It is where we find ourselves now. Last night, we entered the Triduum, the Great Three Days. The long liturgy of our Christian tradition that frames the events of these days. Last night we remembered Jesus’ last night with his disciples. We became part of the story. We shared a meal. We heard Jesus’ words as he shared bread and wine with those at the table with him. Words familiar to us in the ritual of the Eucharist. We washed one another’s feet, following the command that he gave to the disciples. Today, on Good Friday, we follow Jesus through the next part of the journey—the path to the Cross. Crucifixion and death, the rock-bottom part of the story.
Like the early followers of Jesus, in the sadness and upheaval of this day, we too turn to ritual. Some of it familiar, some of it unique to this day. In few minutes, Kristin will bring a wood cross forward and place it here at the foot of the steps. We will then have the opportunity to come forward and pause for a moment at that cross. To honor it. To affirm it as the central symbol of our Christian faith. To embrace the Cross and its story as part of ourselves.
Then we will turn to other, more familiar rituals: prayer and communion. Actions that are part of another baptismal promise: to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers. It is what we do each time we gather for worship. Listen to the stories of Scripture, offer prayer, and share the Eucharistic meal. Today, opening our hearts and minds to the wider Church and the vast world of which we are part, we will pray the Solemn Collects. A collection of biddings and responses modeled on ancient prayers of the Church. They are used only on Good Friday. Then, finally, we will share communion, but not in the usual way. No bringing forward of gifts. No Eucharistic Prayer. No consecrating of elements. Instead, simple prayers and then a sharing of bread and wine saved from last night’s liturgy.
With some sense of order restored, we will depart in silence. To continue the journey and move forward. To the next part of the story.