I’ve been thinking about death for the past few weeks. Lest you think this is stemming from some sort of morbidity on my part, it’s been a dose of digging deep into the passage of John 19 for guidance in writing a poem I read aloud today at a Good Friday service. Culturally speaking, Good Friday gets glossed over in favor of Easter, and I get it. Who wants to dwell on death when you can spend the time feasting with friends and family, celebrating, joyful. But without Good Friday, there is no point of context for Easter.
One moment stands out from the passage to me. It’s such a human moment for an inhuman instance. Jesus has been nailed to the cross and looks out at his mother, his mother’s sister and Mary Magdalene. It’s hard to imagine that kind of pain and suffering or even still the clarity of vision as he speaks to his mother saying, “Dear woman, behold your son” and to his friend standing nearby, “Here is your mother.” In spite of the circumstance, Jesus sees his mother weeping and wants to care for her- now and in the future.
What’s so remarkable about this moment is how in uttering those words to Mary, he is speaking to her as both son and God. It makes me think about last moments…
Specifically, a man doubled over, in the middle of a heart attack. He hears the directives a 911 call attendant provides to his wife on the phone, hears the distress in his wife’s terse response of “I can’t flip him over, he’s too big.” And in that moment, in that hearing, he sees his opportunity to care for her and flips himself. It must be so hard to see that you will soon pass over and watch someone you love hurting and not know how it will turn out.
Death is not easy. It never was intended to be easy. In fact, it was not part of the original plan at all. But it does visit each of us and I think of this moment where we, the readers get to listen in on the last words exchanged between a mother and her son, a woman and her God. He cares for her and in his telling, speaks words that will ensure she is cared for.
Today, we encounter such difficult things, don’t we? The unexpected prognosis. The accident. The before-their-time demise. Nothing can soften the blow. And yet, we have these words to plant deep in the soil of our souls. We get a sense of something bigger that can help us buffet the storm of grief that rocks our already tottering boat.
by annelies zijderveld
In an instant a child can disappear
Instead of walking with you, he’s just not there.
Steps get retraced back from where
You came and find him turning over questions
with teachers, surprised by concern,
Didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house?
Who reproves a child making sense
of father from Father- you take his words to heart.
After some years, your boy becomes
a man selecting the right companions. Who is it
that draws to him people like a bucket
of water pulling from a well? A crowd gathers
curious, you round up your boys
who mutter, He must be out of his mind, and
try to take charge, still not getting
what season he is now entering. Instead of access
you hear him ask, Who are my mother
and brothers, you see him motioning to the crowd,
continuing to assert his godliness in
declaring those obedient, mother and brothers.
Who knew the road would lead here:
a hill, a cross, a crown. You watch as they drive nails
into the hands you used to hold as he
learned how to walk – hands that learned his father’s
trade – hands that knew how to save
water and turn it into wine. You’ve always taken
his words to heart, not comprehending
this day would come. And even if your boy wanted
none of this would be undone.
Your God, your son looks on you weeping and loves
You, utters, Dear woman behold your son,
as he motions to his friend and to him, Here is your mother.
Taking care of those he cherishes because
He knows how this ends, that it is near, soon to daven
It is finished as the rest of the story begins.
© Annelies Zijderveld. All rights reserved. Please do not reprint or post without attribution. I wrote this poem for City Church San Francisco, and read it as part of their Good Friday service 2013.