After the extreme emotion of Friday afternoon; the agonizing dying and finally, mercifully, the death; Mary Magdalene and—as Scripture now calls her—the other Mary, the mother of Jesus sit opposite the tomb in silence. Everyone else has gone. They no longer have to keep a brave face.
Nothing prepares us for the absence of one we love: to no longer hear the voice, see the face, feel the touch of one who filled our days, our lives, our hearts. We miss the trail they left through the house: shoes here, hat there, wallet on the bureau, purse on the counter. We miss their being.
Nothing prepares us for death. We flinch as we hear the first spade of dirt falling on a casket; the grind of stone on stone sealing a niche or a tomb. What are we supposed to do when what has happened could not possible have happened?
In silence, the two Mary’s sit before the tomb; so completely separated from Jesus. He was so recently among them; full of life and live and the very energies of God.
Good Friday enters our lives in so many ways: a sibling slips into addiction, homelessness, and then vanishes, we know not where. Good Friday comes when they foreclose on the house, shut down the plant, downsize the job. It comes when a youngster skips off to school, and gets caught in crossfire in the classroom or the playground. Good Friday comes as abandonment, betrayal, disappointment, hurt. Good Friday comes.
And when it comes, we—with these women who love Jesus; like Jesus himself in his last hours, plead with God to do something about these bodies of death. Protect us! Spare us! Rescue us!
Tonight we receive no answer to our pleas; only silence. And I have always experienced this silence at the tomb as a sign of God’s respect. What can anyone say, even God, that will lessen the anguish, grief, and fear? that will cover the gap in our lives? fill the hole in our hearts? lighten the darkness that presses in the walls of the tomb?
We want answers. We want a word. We want it not to be so. God gives us silence; silence and holy companionship. God gives us presence; presence in absence; light in darkness.
Tonight, God rests. And like the two Mary’s, we wait. Grieving goes on, piece by piece; defying tidiness or timeliness. We call up one memory at a time, and wait for the newness only God can bring. In God’s hands, the tomb that entraps us and seals out life can become the womb that carries us and brings new birth.
For Jesus, newness rises on the third day. For us it can take weeks, months, maybe even years before newness takes root in our hearts and in our lives. It will come.
We cannot live fully and avoid grief. Every decision to love opens our lives to richness and light and joy—yes! The decision to love opens us to the possibilities of sorrow, darkness, and death as well.
Love brings life’s Good Fridays. And the source of all love that is love meets us when we sit before life’s tombs. Our God, never more broken, joins us in our waiting this night. God rests. And then God acts: opening tombs, shining light into dark places, defeating the powers of sin and death. The time for holy action has yet to come. It will come.
This evening, in Scripture, liturgy, and song, we capture the ebb and flow of mourning. We sing our praise. And we turn our lament heavenward. Lament; for we dare not deny the severe, barren, complex landscape of grief. Praise, because even in death, even in darkness, in all our griefs large and small, the God of praise remains true, present, close.
The two Mary’s depart: leave the tomb and return home. Sabbath comes, and they will keep it as is their custom. These are faithful women.
If any of us would like to join them in Sabbath prayers this evening, we invite you at the close of this service to make your way downstairs to one of the chapels: to pray for healing, to share in the rite of reconciliation. There will be people to pray with you. Or linger here and pray your own way. Whatever you choose, pray with the confidence of the poet Walter Bruggemann:
Our only urging on Friday is that you live as we must
impacted but not destroyed,
dimmed but not quenched.
For your great staying power
and your promise of newness we praise you.
It is in your power
and your promise that we take our stand this day.
We dare trust that Friday is never the last day,
So we watch for the new day of life.
Hear our prayer and be your full self toward us.
These are sermon notes and not intended for the purposes of publication. Gina Gilland Campbell
Walter Bruggemann, Awed to Heaven, Rooted to Earth: Prayers of Walter Bruggemann, Fortress press, 2003, Augsburg Fortress.