Last Sunday we gathered around the table. We had some faces missing and others back after some time away. We opened in prayer. And then we checked-in with our homework. Which was to consider ourselves as both (in turn) of the criminals who were crucified with Christ and (the bonus question) to consider if we can be with Christ in paradise now (today!).
The conversation went first to a discussion of paradise. And much was said, the question of time and what bounds it — what makes “today” today, especially when talking about death; considering if paradise is the same as heaven; wondering if Christ going to hell and seeing folks there was bringing paradise to those in hell. There were those who consider paradise (equal to/same as) heaven and consider the arrival there to be only after the rapture (the 2nd coming of Christ). If we hold this, is Christ lying in saying to a criminal “Today you’ll be with me in paradise?”
There was much….so many topics to consider, paradise, heaven, hell, the second coming of Christ. In thinking about why the criminals would be crucified with Christ there were thoughts about perhaps crucifying more people would make a bigger spectacle; thoughts that the criminals show us that even at the very end of a life that has not known Christ grace extends to us even then — even there & paradise is an option; thoughts that this gift of grace is a gift, and we always have an option to receive or reject it — even when Jesus is right next to us. We wondered about what the understanding was at that time around death for those who did not believe in Christ as the waited for messiah (for a potential resource check HERE).
As we continue to consider these last words of Christ I imagine we will continue to lean into challenging questions, that we will be attentive to some different things that perhaps we have not noticed before as we stay in these last moments on the Cross as our Lenten practice. And as we do that, I wonder if part of our living faithfully is also learning how to ask the right questions? We will never understand fully God (this was even mentioned!) — but will we be able to grow in our ability to ask questions, questions that prayerfully help us not only know more of God intellectually but to know more of God in us, to know more of perfect love (to feel more loved) and to allow that knowledge to transform us right now…
So without all the answers — we turned to scripture considering John 19:23-27:
ENGLISH STANDARD VERSION
23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic.[a]But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom,24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,
“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”
So the soldiers did these things, 25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
John 19:23 Greek chiton, a long garment worn under the cloak next to the skin
We listened to the text. We noticed, the presence of and the nearness of the women — and the women being named. We noticed no man named, but the (beloved) disciple being present. We considered Jesus taking responsibility for being the 1st born son & providing for his mother. One noticed just how everything happened so that scripture from old was fulfilled…that the tunic was seamless, that the soldiers gambled for his clothing. We talked about a callousness that seemed to be present, but also named that the soldiers were doing their job, and while it fulfilled what the scriptures had foretold it didn’t necessarily mean that these men were doing anything other than just that, their job that they were expected to do in a certain way.
As we take time with these last words and moments of Christ on the cross we slow down a bit. And the homework for this week centers of course on what Jesus said…telling his mother she has a (new) son….telling his disciple he has a (new) mother. And the homework is just this…is what Jesus does here on the cross with his mother and his disciple:
What do we think? And why? Perhaps try to think about this from the perspective of Jesus…from the perspective of his mom….from the perspective of the disciple. How do you imagine the tone of voice was in saying this, the facial expressions involved? Was this kind, cruel, crass? A mixture? What do you think? And yes…there still is time to find an answer.
Looking forward to Sunday around the table. Holding y’all in prayer until then.
In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater