Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Good Friday 03/30/2018

“Woman, here is your son.” In John’s gospel those are the first words Jesus speaks from the cross which at first might seem to be a bit surprising. In the sequence of John’s narrative, in the verses right before this, the soldiers were mocking Jesus and casting lots for his clothes, so we might expect Jesus to respond to what they were doing; but in John’s telling of it, Jesus doesn’t say anything to them. Instead he first addresses his mother, saying “Woman, here is your son,” then he turns to the disciple identified only as the one whom he loved, saying to him, “Here is your mother.”

These words spoken at this time would be a surprise except for the fact this is the Gospel according to St. John and in John the sequence of things tends to be less important than the theological truth John is trying to convey. Looking for a logical sequence in John’s narrative or in the various dialogues that are central to his gospel can be rather frustrating and getting too obsessed with looking for such a sequence can cause one to miss what’s most important, what’s most important being the theological truth John is leading to.

John’s gospel as a whole has been called a theological reflection in the form of a story filled as it is with a variety of images along with conversations and discourses that tend to run in circles more than in straight lines. In church tradition John is identified as John the Theologian because of the depth of his thought and how much of that thought was used in developing basic Christian teaching. With John then, there are always layers of interpretation to be mined and that is certainly the case with these verses today.

It’s also important to remember that John’s portrayal of Jesus is different than that of the other gospels. It’s good to be aware of that in a service like this where verses are pulled from all four gospels, the authors of which have different agendas in how they tell their story of Jesus along with different ways of portraying him. Obviously there are similarities, but there are differences too but you can’t use the Jesus of the other gospels to interpret what he says in John.

Central to John’s difference is the fact that he pretty much begins where Matthew, Mark and Luke end. In their accounts, all along the disciples tend to be mystified by Jesus, not really understanding who he is, seeing him mostly as a prophet and teacher. It’s only at the end, in encountering the Risen Christ that they finally start to get it, to understand his full identity. That however, is where John’s narrative begins when John the Baptist announces, “Behold the Lamb of God,” when he sees Jesus.

Jesus as the Lamb of God is an identity and an image we’re familiar with and probably just accept without too much thought, but John the Baptist recognizing Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world in chapter one of John, shows that from the beginning of his gospel, Jesus is already seen as much more than a prophet and teacher.

Shortly after John the Baptist’s announcement, Andrew tells his brother Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah,” and Philip says to Nathaniel, “We have found the one of whom Moses and the prophets wrote,” both statements representing a fuller understanding of Jesus. In John’s narrative then, unlike that of the other gospels, Jesus identity is more fully known from the beginning. There is movement from the human, more historical perspective of the other gospels to a divine, more spiritual and eternal perspective. In John then, Jesus is depicted as the exalted Lord from the beginning and Jesus himself is conscious of his pre-existence with the Father which doesn’t seem to be the case in the other gospels.

With that depiction, in John, Jesus is always in control. He acts in full obedience to the Father, always aware of what the Father’s will for him is. His control is especially evident in the trial scene. Unlike the other gospels where Jesus is mostly silent before Pilate, in John Jesus is eloquent and self assured, in many ways turning the tables and putting Pilate on trial. Jesus isn’t afraid of Pilate, instead in John, Pilate is afraid of Jesus. In control, Jesus is not a helpless victim but gives himself up to be crucified. We move from “he was given up” to “he gave himself up.”

Jesus goes voluntarily to his death reflecting back to John’s image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. Jesus gives himself up and to further emphasize that, in John there is no Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross for him; instead, Jesus carries his own cross.

All of which brings us to the scene we deal with in this segment, another scene that Jesus controls. As we enter the scene John describes there are those soldiers mocking Jesus as he is crucified, but again, he’s not preoccupied with them, he doesn’t interact with them. It is the little group standing near the cross that gets Jesus’ attention, the group made up of three women, including Jesus’ mother, and along with the three women is the disciple whom Jesus loved.

In the other gospels, all of the disciples had fled. In the other gospels, the women watched from a distance. Here though, we get the women at the foot of the cross along with the Beloved Disciple with Jesus’ mother and the Beloved Disciple not being named, only identified by title, a clue that John is less interested in their historical identity, more interested in what they symbolize.

Still, even with the symbolic, theological depth of John it would be wrong to ignore the first layer of this scene, this word, the first layer in which Jesus creates a connection between his mother and his disciple. At a very basic level, in a patriarchal society Jesus is being a good son. He’s fulfilling an obligation to his mother especially as there is no indication that there is a husband on the scene to provide support. Facing death, Jesus still demonstrated self giving love; his concern was not for himself, but for his mother. Even facing death, in control, Jesus made sure that she would be cared for.

With that, a new family unit is formed and it’s one not based on blood relations which is consistent with Jesus’ understanding of family throughout all of the gospels. In this case we focus on the word love and on the disciple whom Jesus loved. Love is a loaded term in John, having to do with complete self-giving to another: There’s the familiar verse, “For God so loved the world;” last night we heard “I give you a new commandment, ‘Love one another as I have loved you.” That kind of self giving love is the connecting factor in this new family. As he says, “Woman, here is your son,” the dying Jesus leaves his mother as the mother of the Beloved disciple and having been designated as her son, besides caring for her, this disciple also becomes Jesus’ brother. Importantly though, the connection of love overrides the connection of kinship.

Digging deeper then into John’s imagery, what we have here at the foot of the cross is the beginning of a much larger family, a family that we call the church. Those who stand by the cross like the Beloved Disciple, those who stand by the cross and are not ashamed of it, receive as their mother, Mary, the one who is obedient to God, Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary, the mother of God. In faith those who stand at the foot of the cross become children of God.

For John then, Mary is a symbol of the church. The Beloved Disciple is a symbol of the faithful who embrace the self-giving love of Jesus, the faithful who embrace his will and purpose which has to do with love and peace and justice, the faithful who stay with Jesus and stand by the cross. Out of the passion and cross of Jesus, the church is born.

Standing by the cross is where we find ourselves today, with Mary, with the Beloved Disciple, part of Jesus’ own family created by and centered on his life giving, self-giving love.

Gracious God, even on this most somber of days we give thanks. We give thanks that by your death you give us new life as part of your family, the church. We pray that we live out our identity as your brothers and sisters in self giving acts of love as you have modeled for us. When we fail we give thanks for your grace and forgiveness that leads to the new life of new opportunities. We pray in Jesus’ name.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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