Being Born Again
Rev. Jennifer Adams – Good Friday 2018 – John 18:1-19:42
I’m going to open these Good Friday reflections with a quote from a gentle and wise theologian who became famous for having the gift of speaking to children. Fred Rogers, whom the world came to know as “Mr Rogers” also had a very genuine passion for and commitment to goodness, which is probably why he could speak to children as easily as he did.
“When I was a boy,” Rogers said in an interview, “and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of disaster,” he said, “I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
And I wonder if that’s a good way to shape our thinking and our praying on this Good Friday. There is a lot for us to take in today. There is a lot for us to sort through today. There are the themes of betrayal and denial, truth and salvation. There are religious leaders whose version of righteousness inflamed fear and hatred among their people. There are government leaders whose insecurities led to the death of an innocent man. And there is God. There is God in solidarity with humanity in ways that had never previously been imagined, and that we have trouble believing still. There was God expressing a love that surpassed all understanding, especially given the absolute disaster that was humanity in this story. Betrayals. Denials. Hatreds. Injustices and fears. Sometimes when I hear this story, that all in itself is hard to believe – there was just so much of us at our worst all in one place, all coming together in one tragic moment in time.
And so it’s important for us to acknowledge the Peter in us, the Judas in us, the Pilate and Ciaphas and our own fearful tendencies to lean with the crowd. Through those characters we come to the forgiveness offered this day. And we need to hear that.
But it’s also important to remember that there were helpers there too. There were those who were “taking care” and very simply being present to the suffering in their world. And so maybe it’s a good day to take Mr. Roger’s advice. I think we should look to the helpers. Because something was happening there.
“Meanwhile,” the gospel of John said, “standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
In other words Jesus said, “You are now family.” You at the foot of the cross are mother, son, daughter, sister, father, brother to each other. And then it was finished. The final gift given, prior to resurrection was transforming who the people were for each other.
And so among the helpers, God was redefining how to be in this world. God was transforming us and how to be prior to the resurrection that will claim us all. Which is maybe why we should look to the helpers; we should look to those who are present in ways that offer care and that speak of love because something happens among them. And they are out there, they are always out there. Sometimes that they is us.
This day is spoken of as a “means to eternity” which I believe it is. But from the cross, Christ also again offered us one another. And so this day proclaims God’s presence with humanity in ways that express divine and eternal love; it also invites us to be with one another in ways that express the love we have been invited to share here and now.
“You are now family,” Jesus told them. And Joseph of Arimathea came and helped them too. And then Nicodemus arrived. Remember him? The one who several chapters back was working on being born again? At this point in the gospel it was Nicodemus who carried the body of the One who, even in death, was rebirthing them all.
And so we look forward to resurrection. Always. There is eternal, everlasting hope to be had and proclaimed. But on Good Friday we also see that in places where the injustice seems to outweigh the goodness, and the betrayals and denials are almost enough to overwhelm, something else is happening too. Look to the helpers this day. A grace-filled transformation is being offered among them. And in such moments, we can all be born again.