Text: Luke 23:33-43
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus 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.’
Let us pray: Ever-present God, your presence means everything to us. Remind us that our presence means everything to those around us. Amen.
In 2005, Deirdre Sullivan wrote a piece for a series on NPR called “This I Believe.” In it, she says,
I believe in always going to the funeral. My father taught me that. The first time he said it directly to me, I was 16 and trying to get out of going to calling hours for Miss Emerson, my old fifth grade math teacher. I did not want to go. My father was unequivocal. “Dee,” he said, “you’re going. Always go to the funeral. Do it for the family.”
So my dad waited outside while I went in. It was worse than I thought it would be: I was the only kid there. When the condolence line deposited me in front of Miss Emerson’s shell-shocked parents, I stammered out, “Sorry about all this,” and stalked away. But, for that deeply weird expression of sympathy delivered 20 years ago, Miss Emerson’s mother still remembers my name and always says hello with tearing eyes.
…“Always go to the funeral” means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don’t feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don’t really have to and I definitely don’t want to. I’m talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. The Shiva call for one of my ex’s uncles. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn’t been good versus evil. It’s hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.
Woody Allen famously said 80% of life is showing up. I hear this with relief because with sites like Pinterest and Facebook, we may start to believe that life is about showing up with an intricately wrapped present that you hand-crafted for hours in your garage with recycled pieces you pulled together from years searching through various garage sales and thrift stores and refurbished using old tools you found in your father’s basement and were saving for the perfect project for the perfect occasion. (Some people are gifted at these things. I object to everyone feeling like they need to be gifted at these things.) Or it’s breezing into a wake with the right card with the right words of sympathy and looking like you’ve just come from the salon. Or it’s spending hours de-weeding and de-junking your yard for a graduation party because heaven forbid people see what your yard really looks like on a regular Tuesday.
Simply showing up takes courage. How many times have we skipped out on a party or a chance to connect with someone because we don’t feel as put together as we want–or because we don’t feel like it, period? So instead of showing up, we do nothing.
Wherever Jesus goes in the gospel of Luke, he is surrounded by a family of faithful Jews (for Jesus was a faithful Jew himself), even to the end. Luke is careful to tell us that on the way to the crucifixion site, the daughters of Jerusalem follow, claiming him (as one commentator says) “as their brother, their son, as the grandson who reminded them of the hopes of their youth.” The women–his family–are there.
When they get to the place called The Skull, the narrator makes sure we know Jesus is surrounded by his community (calling them laos, the Greek word meaning “faithful Israel”), standing and watching. The Greek word for stand indicates a purposeful standing; it’s the same word used to describe the angel standing next to Zechariah and it’s the word Jesus uses to command a crippled man to stand after Jesus heals him. The people aren’t loitering around the crucifixion scene; they are standing with Jesus, making a stand against the powers of Rome.
The people also watch. The Greek word doesn’t mean to simply observe—it means to understand. They know fully what is happening. They stand with understanding, knowing something powerful is happening, knowing they are there with a purpose and meaning—to lift up their Messiah and stand by him. They are courageous and faithful.
The family of Israel, of which we are a part, surrounds Jesus; it shows up and participates. Jesus even finds a faithful Jew hanging from a cross next to him, understanding Jesus’ power and receiving his promise of life in Paradise that very day.
As we wait for the kingdom of God to arrive in its fullness, we show up. We stand. We watch. We show up for others, standing with them and searching to understand them and their lives. We show up by going to a funeral and singing so the family can hear us. We show up in daily ways, even when it’s hard—Judy Dally writes a love poem that includes the line, “Sometimes all I can do for you is the dishes.” And sometimes that’s enough. It’s showing up in the best way we can with what we have right now, and it’s better than nothing.
As we begin the Christmas season next week, we’ll be overrun by expectations to bring the best gifts, look excited and happy to be at parties, and pull it all off without letting anyone know we broke a sweat. Yet we need a reminder that Christmas is about showing up–however we’re feeling or looking–and being with others. As we wait and watch for the Messiah, our job isn’t to look good. Our job is to stand, and wait, and watch, however we are looking or feeling.
Kevin Kling tells the story of dancing with his grandma at his brother’s wedding. Kevin isn’t a dancer, yet when he sees his grandma sitting and watching others dance around her, he asks her to join him on the dance floor. He’s nervous and feels a little silly, but remembers his uncle’s advice–to “cinch ’em in” when you’re feeling unsure–so he pulls his grandma close and they manage their way around the floor. He realizes he’s doing quite well and looks down at his grandma, ready to comment on his new-found dance abilities when he sees her eyes are closed. She isn’t dancing with him.
Kevin puts aside his fears and embarrassment and shows up on the dance floor with his grandma, giving her a gift beyond his imagining–an inconvenience to him, but the world to her. We show up in response to our God who shows up for us, as one of us, over and over, as a tiny baby in a manger, a man hanging on a cross, and outside an empty tomb with the stone rolled away, promise-filled and ever-present. Amen.