Series: Holy Week
Speaker: The Rev'd Emily Griffin
Where is Jesus’ family? Shouldn’t they be here – or did they desert him too? Families, no matter how dysfunctional, usually rally for this part – calling the funeral home, writing the obituary, showing up for the service. Yet here for Jesus’ burial we have Marys who probably aren’t his mother and a Joseph who’s definitely not the man who raised him. We don’t hear from the father Joseph in any of the Gospels after Jesus is about 12, so most think he died long before. But what about his mother Mary?
She’s come a long way, our Mary, from the teenage girl who was credited with the Magnificat long before she knew what she had gotten into being Jesus’ mom. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” It’s possible that she could be the “Mary, mother of James and Joses” mentioned here in Mark. John, of course, puts her at the foot of the cross – as she’s pictured here. Mark, though, isn’t so clear. If he means our Mary, it’s a bit odd that she’s described this way. Mark tells us earlier that Jesus had brothers – including ones named James and Joses – but there’s no real need for him to be cryptic at this point. Even if Jesus is dead now, she’s still his mother. Why not say so out loud?
Then again, Mark has never had any real interest in Jesus’ biological family. They’re mentioned just twice – once near the beginning, when Jesus’ fame is just starting to spread. We’re told that they tried to restrain him, that the rumors about him being out of his mind had gotten to them. Maybe they were trying to protect him; maybe they were just trying to spare themselves embarrassment. What we do know is that Jesus didn’t let their claim on him slow him down in the slightest; he said that “whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Good news if that’s us wanting to be part of his family; not so charming for those who thought they already were.
I wonder how the Magnificat would have sounded to Mary on Good Friday – if she even recognized her own voice in it anymore. She was so confident back then, so sure of what God was like. Her God was the God of the exodus – the freedom fighter, the champion of justice who was not afraid to take sides with the weak against the mighty. Before Jesus was even born, she could claim “the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name. He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation…” Would she say that today? The strength of God’s arm is far from apparent, and today at least - the mighty seem quite happy on their thrones. When she said that God has lifted up the lowly, I’m guessing the cross wasn’t what she had in mind.
So does today negate everything she spent a lifetime trusting? I can’t say for sure; it’s beyond my pay grade to make that call for her – but I don’t think so. Her faith might need to go on muscle memory for a while; she might need others to sing her song until she’s ready to sing it again. But this was her son, her miracle child, her personal proof of the existence of God; his life was a gift, no matter how it ended or how long it lasted.
And if she looked hard enough, she could find mercies even in this horror. He didn’t linger in his suffering. And his disciples - the ones who should have taken the body and prepared the tomb – they may have fled the scene, but there were others who filled in – women whose names we may never have learned otherwise. We’re told that they followed him and provided for him while he was in Galilee; other translations say they served him. As we know, following Jesus is no easy thing – and service is the highest of callings in Jesus’ playbook. He said that whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, that he came not to be served but to serve. It sounds like some of the seeds he’d planted had found good soil after all.
And then there’s the other Joseph – Joseph of Arimathea. Turns out even the rockiest of soils could still produce some fruit. We’re told here that he was a member of the council, the same council that had brutally condemned Jesus to death the night before. Even if it took him way too long to find his voice, he eventually did – and performed one last work of mercy for our Lord. It may seem like a small thing, giving Jesus a proper burial – not worth the overblown press he’s been given over the years. But the way we treat the dead matters. The way we treat their bodies matters. We are not immortal souls with disposable bodies; our bodies are part and parcel of our identity. They are part of how we’re fearfully and wonderfully made. Whether we bury them or let them return to dust sooner rather than later, our bodies are never beyond God’s eye or God’s care. Joseph had the decency to recognize that.
So what about Jesus’ family? Were they there when they crucified our Lord? I suppose it depends on how you define family. Jesus’ biological family may very well have been there, but Mark’s Jesus would never think of limiting family to that. There’s the family we inherit, and then there’s the one created for us by the kingdom of God. In this family, we don’t get to decide who’s in or who’s out. There’s no inside track, no solid place where we can draw the line between who’s ours to care for and who’s not – whose bodies matter and whose don’t. Any act of kindness, of service is welcome – no matter who offers it. In this kingdom, teenagers can bring us from our knees to our feet. People who would never be named in the obituary can still be family. A stranger in a hospital room, a funeral home, a graveside can help gather our scattered pieces and knit us back together. Death doesn’t crowd everything else out in this frame. We watch as this torn and broken world is repaired – slowly, too slowly - one song, one act of witness, one work of mercy at a time. In the Name of the One whose kingdom makes us family, Amen.