As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.” For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’
Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus[e] there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
Maundy Thursday. The dark night before the good day narrated in this passage. The night’s details are as confusing as the details of Jesus’ walk and death that next day. Three Gospels narrate cross carrier Simon, but only in Luke is the appeal for women to stop weeping; focus on hoping they won’t have to bear the present or next age. Only Luke writes that Jesus promises paradise to criminals next to him. The Luke writer goes beyond the stories heard, letting the story rise from the immediate moment to place Jesus’ death into a longer narrative, death and resurrection only a moment in a longer timeframe of hope and consequences.
Maundy Thursdays, we try to focus on the moment, not the longer time. We focus on the conversations, potential meaning, implications for Jesus’ followers and betrayers. We try to make sense of bread and wine bearing meaning for the moment, but we can’t help seeing the meaning for future moments. With Jesus, it is never possible to focus only on the one event. I wonder sometimes if the Gospels are the variety they are because, with Jesus, we’re always swept up into greater truths each time we try to pin down a moment. Whatever the details, the bigger story compels us. God was in Jesus, the night before the crucifixion was a powerful time full of spots of light into dark rooms, the night pointed to eternity as much as it pointed to the next day.
Let’s take heart from the light of eternity this dark day/night. The whole truth is always greater than the detail of any story; diving into details helps, yet alongside, we need to see the accumulation of moments to see the greater truth. Death and resurrection are but moments in the long graceful narrative of eternal life.
God, you know how we can focus in on tiny things, letting ourselves get lost in one detail over another. Give us wisdom and peace to see small things add up, to see the bigger narrative unfold. Give us courage to see that if the larger truth is not Gospel, the details are put into question. Be with us with your grace, as present with us in the focussed moment as in the larger drama. Amen
The Rev’d Elizabeth Gray-King, Visual Theologian, member St Columba’s URC, North Western Synod Pastor