Good Friday - The Burial
Text: Matthew 27:55-67
Many women were there, looking on. They saw the whole thing.
They had been with Jesus the whole time. They started out with him in Galilee, ministering to him on the way, having taken over that job from the angels who had ministered to him in the wilderness. After having been witnesses to his life of traveling, teaching, healing, barrier-breaking, today they are witnesses to his horrible death. The beating, the mocking, the spitting, the nailing, the bleeding, the dying. Two of them, Mary Magdalene and one of the other Marys, were witnesses to his burial as well. They saw everything.
Women, of course, didn't count as witnesses, not even two of them, according to the custom in that time and place, as if they couldn't be trusted to tell the cold hard truth, to stick to the facts. And so apparently nobody paid them any mind as they followed, watching, abiding with Jesus when all the others had deserted him, watching from afar, watching from across the street, perhaps sitting on the wall of the garden. The men - Joseph, Pilate, the leaders of the Temple - went about their business, and then soldiers came to guard the tomb that the Marys had already been watching over in silent witness.
They are like the Greek chorus in the ancient plays, just offstage but who see and interpret the main events, except that here they are "on mute," as it were. Silent. Silenced. We do not hear what we ought to hear, shrieking, wailing, crying out about injustice, crying out like the prophets cried out: violence! violence! violence!
If this were a scene in a movie, we would see the action, and there would be music playing - Barber's Adagio for Strings, perhaps - but no dialogue. We'd see the women watching silently. We'd see Joseph approach Pilate, see Pilate nod or wave his hand. We'd see Joseph wrapping the body of Jesus in the clean white linen, we'd see the tomb and the stone, we'd see Joseph walk away. We'd see the women still sitting on the wall across the pathway, watching it all. The actual dialogue would only begin with the sharp voices of the Pharisees and Chief Priests complaining to Pilate: "When that imposter was alive he said he would be raised after three days. Order a guard to stay at the tomb so his disciples don't steal the body and then claim he was raised." And Pilate will growl, "See to it."
Only the voices of those who wish to control the spin are heard. They believe they can control the message. They are sure the other side is up to no good. Oh, the irony, they believe they will be - must be - the official witnesses. They will stick to their facts to sway everyone to see the imposter for what he was. He deserved it, they will say from their offices and their homes and their club meetings.
Nowhere do we hear the voices crying out: Violence! Violence!
Instead we hear calculated name calling, plot-hatching, spinning, efforts to discredit Jesus, the one who welcomed all, who healed, who broke down barriers and refused to observe the social codes that entrenched into outcast status people who were poor, people of the wrong gender or age, people with illnesses both physical and mental, people who were voiceless and powerless, held hostage to their bodies, their minds, their gender, their social standing, their accidents of birth.
And those men think that they can put him in the tomb and seal it up and put a guard around it and control the message. But the women are watching and they see it all. And through their witness, we can see it all as well.
This is not necessarily about gender. There are always people who count and people who don't count; there are always people who are cut down when they mess with the status quo, when they threaten the power structure, when they champion people the powerful want to keep pushed aside. There are always people who use their power to try to control the message and use smear tactics and lies to appeal to our lower instincts and skew the story to play on our fears. But women and children are often the witnesses to violence and they are often silenced through intimidation. Or they are simply dismissed. They may even cry violence, but does anyone hear? Does anyone listen to them? Believe them? Believe anyone who dares to speak out against what the powerful have decreed to be the truth?
Whose eyes see what happens to the people who die on our streets every day here in our own city? Is it nothing to us who pass them by? Who watches over the bodies of those who have no one to speak for them, to cry violence as they are shoved to the margins, discounted, blamed for their own misfortunes? Who ministers to them while they arrange their cardboard boxes under the interstate and succumb to the cold, the heat, starvation, addiction? Who follows behind them as they run from their abusers and stand on the side of the road, hating themselves for the things others do to them, while tears of shame and despair stream down their faces? Who abides with them as they die? Who sees to giving them a decent burial? Who cries out, Violence! while the powerful control the message, issuing their opinions from their offices and their homes and clubs?
And so now Jesus is buried and we offer up our lament. The fact that we know how it will turn out does not lessen the need for grief. Grief for what we do to each other, grief for the soul crushing that hatred and killing does to both victim and perpetrator, that kills some and hardens others and frightens us from naming violence for what it is. Grief for all who suffer in this life, and for those who cause the suffering, and for those who cannot bear to look, and for those who will not face their own complicity.
Let us grieve and lament, and be gathered into the tomb, perpetrator, victim, and bystander together, for it is from that darkness that salvation will rise.