When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to IMG_0657his mother, “Woman, Here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple,”Here is your mother.”

How to be with another person is a question that stirs throughout John’s gospel. Always in John there is the language of abiding, most especially talk of who abides with and in God.

But tonight, in John’s Passion narrative, it’s all-too-evident that abiding isn’t always a comfort. Being with another person is difficult. Sometimes the greater comfort is running away, or can seem to be. Peter has run off after denying he had anything to do with Jesus. And Pilate, resisting it all, wants nothing to do with anyone, and so hands Jesus over to be crucified.

Fear and pride and resistance to others – these things often find us on the run.

But something strange happens in this story. Right there, in the terror of the moment, a handful of friends stand beside Jesus on the cross, among them Mary his mother and the beloved disciple. And seeing this gathering of friends still with him, Jesus arranges an adoption of sorts, giving his mother to the disciple, and the disciple to his mother.

Tradition names the mother of Jesus the Standing Mother. Notably, though, she does not stand alone. Others stand with her. And impossibly from the cross, her son is also with her. We return to this truth tonight in the shadow of another standing mother: Our Lady of Paris, Notre Dame Cathedral. She stands in a place of ruin yet already so many friends have come alongside her, as if by holy adoption they might stand with her.

Early on, Christians came to talk of the Church as a lady: a mother who held in her wide embrace broken souls who needed to be with God and with each other. It’s what church is, what religion is, really: in the scheme of things, a handful people who need to be with God and with each other.

Tonight Mother Church gives us a place to kneel and pray and remember and sing. Most of all, she gives us a place to stand before the cross as if with Mary and the beloved disciple, standing with Jesus.

Writing about the cross, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Wells has this to say, “Isn’t it time we realize the story is from beginning to end about with?  God began the story out of a longing to be our companion. [And] billions of years of  . . . cosmological wonders weren’t enough. God wanted to be with one [who] could respond, befriend, comprehend.

“For sure, that entailed being on the receiving end of betrayal, denial, weakness, flight. But all the more God felt compelled to be with us in person, to be among and alongside and together and amidst. And the cross shows us how deeply we resist God being with us, yet how willing God is at any cost to be with us regardless.”[1]

God wanted to be with us, and on the cross, he is. He suffers the worst we can do in the weakest weakness we can be. We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. We have instead one who is willing to stay with us, to be one of us, even when we are unable to stay with him.

This tells us our witness is really about withness. Absent being with God and with each other, our witness to Christ cannot stand.

You see that long-ago adoption story wasn’t for that hour only or for those two only. It was for now. For you, for me, for everyone this night. We are with Christ and we are with each other. And in that withness, each of us has a little something the rest of us need.

I close with an illustration of how withness is the only saving posture there is. It’s from a story by the great Wendell Berry about a man named Andy Catlett who lost a hand to a harvesting machine at the age of forty. Andy’s a proud man, a farmer who can’t make a go of things without two hands, so his friends try to help. But Andy resists them. He wants to do it all by himself.

In Berry’s words, Andy “drove them away, defended the hardened carapace of his self, for fear that they would break in and find him there, hurt and terribly, terribly in need – of them.” Eventually, though, darkness overtakes his pride, and Andy receives a dream. In it, he sees his community – his friends and his family, the living and the dead – “struggling through time to belong together, all gathered together into a presence that was greater than itself.  [And] within the abundance of [that vision],” Andy “saw that he was small, almost nothing, almost lost.” [2]

And it’s then Andy becomes “small” enough – weak enough –  to belong to his friends.

His best friend is a man named Danny. Over time the one-handed man and his two-handed friend learn how to work together. In Danny’s words, “Between us, we’ve got three hands. Everybody needs at least three. Nobody ever needed more.”[3]

Good Friday is after the same thing: it’s here to tell us who we are, and what we’re made for. From the cross, our Lord calls us to the holy withness of his life and love. There, on the cross, we find him and also find our selves terribly, terribly in need of him and of each other: terribly, terribly in need of love.

Love is a costly withness. It asks us to surrender our pride, our fear, our resistance to being with others. Love costs us. But God in Christ will not have us any other way but with him and with each other.

_____________

[1]Samuel Wells, Hanging by a Thread: The Questions of the Cross, (New York: Church Publishing, 2016), 54.

[2]Wendell Berry, Dismemberment, (The Threepenny Review: Summer 2015), 16-17.

[3]Ibid.

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