Sermon and Meditations from Good Friday

Sermon

Dear woman, I have chosen the weak to shame the strong. 

This is Christ’s message for us today from the cross. Dear woman, I have chosen the weak to shame the strong. 

In my mind’s eye, I imagine this scene. Jesus is nailed to the cross, up on the hill. He is nearing death from an agonizing, torturous crucifixion; one of the cruelest forms of the death penalty ever known. At the foot of the cross, keeping vigil, keeping a death watch, are only a handful of folks. Most of Jesus’s followers have betrayed him or abandoned him, leaving only these faithful few behind.

Before he expires, Jesus offers a few final words, including these: “dear woman.”

There, up on the cross, almost dead by execution, Jesus has a lesson for those keeping a death watch, and for us today remembering his suffering by keeping a death watch ourselves. That lesson is this: dear woman, God chooses the weak to shame the strong. 

Let’s hear that moment now from John’s account of the crucifixion. 

Scripture

Dear woman, I have chosen the weak to shame the strong.

Women were no where near an equal gender during Jesus’s time. They were relegated to their households, kept from meaningful engagement in society. Men ruled the house, men ruled the synagogue, men ruled society, and women were to know their place. This came, not surprisingly, from the prevailing wisdom of the day: men were strong, women were weak. 

Dear woman, Jesus says, in part because it’s almost only women who are left there at the cross supporting Jesus. The disciples, except for John, are either dead, as in the case of Judas, or in hiding; scattered around Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside out of fear. These strong men, chosen by Jesus to be his disciples, are weak in this crucial moment. 

But not so for Mary, the mother of Jesus. Not so for Mary, the sister of Jesus’s step-father Joseph. Not so for Mary Magdalene, the friend of Jesus. These supposedly weak women are strong; for they are there, showing their support of Jesus before his executioners. They are risking their lives and status in society to demonstrate their continued support for Jesus. The disciples, except for John, have all denied Jesus either verbally, as with Peter, or through their cowardly actions in fleeing the scene of this state-sponsored execution. 

When Jesus says “dear woman,” he not only speaks to his mother, indicating the equality between her and John; he also points out the clear reality of this moment: the strongest disciples of Jesus are John, Mary, Mary, and Mary; the strongest disciples of Jesus are women. 

Here on the cross, at his weakest moment, we know Jesus to be strong. We know that God’s strength often defies the world’s strength and even makes a mockery of it. What appears weak to the world is actually strength; for God chooses the weak to shame the strong, as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians. There’s no better example of that than the cross.

And here at the cross, those who are supposed to be strong: the disciples, the pharisees, the sadducees, the Romans, are proven weak. And those who are supposed to be weak, the women, are proven strong.

Dear woman, God chooses the weak to shame the strong.

This reality about women being strong disciples carries over throughout the New Testament. All four gospels agree it’s women who come to the tomb first and discover it empty, demonstrating tremendous courage while the male disciples continue to cower in the upper room. It’s to women that Jesus first appears as the resurrected one. And it’s women who are the first to announce the risen savior, running to that upper room to announce what they had witnessed. Women, dear women, are the first disciples and preachers of the risen Christ.  

And according to Luke in the book of Acts, the first disciple of Christ in Europe, and indeed the first pastor in Europe, is Lydia, a wealthy merchant woman who lived in modern day Greece. All the men of Greece fear converting, but not Lydia, who not only converts to Christianity, but recruits new disciples and leads a house church from those recruits. Pastor Lydia is a supposedly weak woman who is, in fact, strong in Christ. 

Dear woman, Jesus says, I have chosen the weak to shame the strong. I have chosen women to demonstrate that strength is not in one gender, it’s not with political power, and it’s not with religious power. No, Jesus says from the cross, in these final moments of his earthly life, that strength is available to all who willingly submit to him, no regardless of gender, power, or any other way we divide ourselves as humans. True strength is available to all who willingly submit to Jesus Christ.

And so, when we submit, weak as it may seem to the world, we become strong; strong like these dear women.

Submit is a nice word, it’s an easy word, it’s one we throw around frequently when it comes to religion. But submission to Christ, both here at the cross and in general, isn’t easy, nor is it without cost. For these women to submit, they have to move past their fear of social rejection. Everyone has rejected Jesus, even his own disciples! They are actively choosing to make themselves social pariahs as they submit to Christ.

Not only that, but they are very recognizable figures. The pharisees and sadducees will remember them there, at the cross, and make sure that they use their power to make these women suffer. These dear women are actively placing a target on their backs as they submit to Christ.

Not only that, but there’s the horror, the terror, of watching their beloved friend, leader, and indeed the man they believe to be God incarnate, die a gruesome death by state-sponsored execution. If they’ll treat Jesus this way, what might they do to his supporters? That question is why the male disciples fled the scene, denied Jesus, and are now in hiding. These dear women also fear of their own deaths and yet still submit to Christ. 

Fear of social rejection. Fear of power used against them. Fear of their own deaths for their support of Jesus. 

These dear women live in fear. And yet, they choose strength through submission to Jesus. They choose strength by staying steadfastly at Jesus’s side, no matter what might happen as a result. There, at the foot of the cross, they count the cost and decide that Jesus is worth the cost. 

Can we say the same about ourselves?

We, like these dear women, live our lives at the foot of the cross because we, too, live in an age of fear: fear of terrorism, fear of immigrants, fear of refugees, fear of democrats, fear of republicans, fear of urban areas, fear of rural areas, fear of guns, fear of the lack of guns, fear of illness, fear of storms, fear of family dynamics, fear of the loss of a loved one, fear of relational strife, fear of terrible health diagnoses, fear of financial ruin, fear of our own deaths. We live in an age of fear. 

And, in this age of fear, God says to us, male and female alike, “dear woman.” Christ beckons to us, invites us, to submit to him, choosing his strength over the strength of the world; Christ invites us to be just like these dear women.

Let us be reflective on this Good Friday. At the foot of the cross, at the height of fear, do we flee, or do we stay steadfastly by Jesus’s side, through thick and thin, believing, firmly, that Jesus is who he says he is and will give us strength when we feel weak from fear? Do we trust what God is doing in the world, even if all we can see is defeat, loss, and fear? 

For the women at the cross, it appeared Jesus had lost, that God had been defeated, and that fear ruled the day. At this moment, at the foot of the cross, these women had no knowledge of the resurrection, they had no Easter Sunday to look forward to. Those things hadn’t arrived yet and there was no assurance that Easter was coming. All they knew was the cross and their feelings of defeat, loss, and especially fear.

When we, like these dear women, only know defeat, loss, and fear, will we seek to live up to their example? Will we choose courage, no matter how weak we may feel? Will we put faith in the words of the Apostle Paul, that God has chosen the weak to shame the strong? Will we believe, without a shadow of doubt, that Jesus is who he says he is, and that evil will, indeed, never triumph over our God? Will we count the cost and decide that Jesus is worth the cost?

Or do we decide that we are strong? Do we rest in the assurance of strength we feel from the power of our authority, the security we feel in our money, the health we feel in our bones, the significance we feel from positions and titles we hold? Do we decide that these, and other, sources of worldly strength actually make us strong? 

This scene at the cross makes clear that those who rest in their sources of worldly strength will lose it, becoming weak when it matters most. And those who rest their source of strength in submission to Jesus Christ will gain it, becoming strong when it matters the most. 

We live in an age of fear, whether fear from personal or worldly circumstances. We know the fear these dear women felt. We, like them, live and move and have our beings at the foot of the cross. This day, and every day, make the choice, out of your belief in Christ, to practice courage in the face of fear. Choose to trust that God knows what God is doing, that Christ is still present in our world, that the Holy Spirit is moving to bring peace to the world and to our lives. That’s the choice John, Mary, Mary, and Mary made. And in making that choice, they became “dear women.” 

S this day, even this very moment, make the choice to be like them. No matter the defeat, loss, and fear that ensues, make the choice to cling to Christ; be a “dear woman.” 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.

Meditation at the Cross 

O my people, O my church, what have I done to you, or in what have I offended you? I led you forth from the land of Egypt and delivered you by the waters of baptism, but you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

People: Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal One, have mercy upon us.

I led you through the desert forty years and fed you with manna; I brought you through times of persecution and of renewal and gave you my body, the bread of heaven; but you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

People: Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal One, have mercy upon us.

I made you branches of my vineyard and gave you the water of salvation, but when I was thirsty you gave me vinegar and gall and pierced with a spear the side of your Savior.

People: Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal One, have mercy upon us.

I went before you in a pillar of cloud, but you have led me to the judgment hall of Pilate. I brought you to a land of freedom and prosperity, but you have scourged, mocked, and beaten me.

People: Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal One, have mercy upon us.

I gave you a royal scepter, and bestowed the keys to the kingdom, but you have given me a crown of thorns. I raised you on high with great power, but you have hanged me on a cross. 

People: Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal One, have mercy upon us.

My peace I gave, which the world cannot give, and washed your feet as a servant, but you draw the sword to strike in my name and seek high places in my kingdom.

People: Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal One, have mercy upon us.

I accepted the cup of suffering and death for your sakes, but you scatter and deny and abandon me. I sent the Spirit of truth to lead you, but you close your hearts to guidance. 

People: Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal One, have mercy upon us.

I called you to go and bring forth fruit, but you cast lots for my clothing. I prayed that you all may be one, but you continue to quarrel and divide. 

People: Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal One, have mercy upon us.

I grafted you into the tree of my chosen people Israel, but you turned on them with persecution and mass murder. I made you joint heirs with them of my covenants, but you made them scapegoats for your own guilt. 

People: Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal One, have mercy upon us.

I came to you as the least of your brothers and sisters. I was hungry but you gave me no food, thirsty but you gave me drink. I was a stranger but you did not welcome me, naked but you did not clothe me, sick and in prison but you did not visit me.

People: Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal One, have mercy upon us.

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