John 18:1-19:42, Good Friday B, April 3, 2015
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
On the Moth podcast, Melissa tells her story of the worst day of her life. The day started just like any other. Her father woke up early to work in their field. Her mother woke her seven-year-old self out of bed, followed by her three-year-old sister Heidi. Their baby sister Clara was cooing from the crib.
After the entire family was ready for the day, Melissa’s mother was hurriedly cleaning the house in preparation for the children’s grandmother to visit. Struggling to get anything done with two young daughters underfoot, their mother sent Melissa and Heidi outside to play.
Melissa immediately went to her tree house. Three-year-old Heidi was too young to climb the ladder by herself, so she said, “Up! Help me up!” In a grouchy seven-year-old mood, Melissa sent her sister away to play by herself.
Then, when their grandmother arrived, Melissa’s mother went outside to gather the family. She found Melissa in the treehouse but couldn’t find Heidi. Then, with a scream, their mom saw Heidi floating face down in the pond with her little red boat floating next to her. Heidi died that day.
For the past twenty years, Melissa has wondered, “If only I had helped Heidi up the ladder that day…” Then maybe her parents wouldn’t have divorced. Then maybe their family could have been happy. Then maybe they each wouldn’t have been ripped apart by their grief and guilt.
Now Melissa is married with a three-year-old daughter of her own. The pond in her own back yard freaks her out. With all of her old emotions rushing up again, Melissa talks to her mother. She confesses her guilt that she feels responsible for her sister’s death.
Then her mother shockingly confesses, “I was the last one that saw Heidi that day. I never told anyone this because I didn’t want your father to blame me. I sent her out to play with her little red boat.” This confession lifted the guilt off of Melissa’s shoulders, yet she could see that her mother still carried that heavy weight of guilt.
Then Melissa talks to her father. He confesses, “[Your mother] wasn’t to blame. I was the last to see Heidi that day. I was working in the garden, and I saw her heading down to the pond with her little red boat. If only I had stopped working and gone down with her, things might have been different.”
So, for over twenty years, Melissa, her mother, and her father each separately bore the weight of guilt for Heidi’s death. They never spoke openly about what happened, so Heidi’s death created a chasm between each of them. They could not express their true feelings, so they stopped talking. Then, after twenty years, they finally were honest with each other. They finally could reconcile.
We are gathered here to remember not Heidi’s death but Jesus’ death. Like Melissa, her mother, and her father, we each bear some blame for Jesus’ death. Yet, there are more than just three people who hold this guilt.
As we participate in the passion reading, we remembered how that first generation fell under evil’s power and condemned Jesus to death. Yet their words are not just for them. Generations throughout history have recalled and recited these words as well. Now it is our turn to passionately cry out, “Crucify him!” As painful as it is to say these words, it can also be cathartic.
When we shout for Jesus to die, we know that we are condemning ourselves to death as well. We deserve to die, but Jesus does not. As we watch Jesus being crucified on that tree, we see the guilt that we bear in his death.
But we do not bear this alone. If we can learn anything from Melissa, we can see how talking about our guilt and shame is the best way to share our burden. In this service, we all bear part of this guilt, so that no one person is crushed beneath this guilt. For Jesus did not die so that we might be burdened by his death. Instead, Jesus died so that we can be freed by it.
Melissa concluded her Moth talk with these words, “We all think that we need to carry these things alone, that somehow that will make it different. But we don’t need to carry them, and we are not alone…What we can do is to help each other, to love each other during this time we have together.”
Christ died a horrible death, yet his suffering was not in vain. All of the power of sin in the world was destroyed in that one death. Jesus died for us, yet his death is not the end of this story. Amen.