(full reading: Luke 22.14 - 23.56)
This Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week when, all over the world, the Church thinks deeply about the event of Jesus' dying and rising to new life. As we begin, the Church gives us two Gospel readings to consider: Jesus entering Jerusalem while the crowds wave palm branches, and an account of Jesus' Passion, beginning at the Last Supper and continuing to his death. We get a picture of almost the whole event—without the greatest moment of all—before we spend the week examining each part in detail.
This year we hear the event from St. Luke's perspective. St. Luke is known for including more accounts of women than the other Gospel writers. In general, women are somewhat hidden in the Gospels. When they show up, we look and listen closely to what they tell us.
We first find the women as Jesus carries the cross up the hill to Golgotha where he will be crucified.
A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him.
The women are extremely upset. Like us, they hate seeing him suffer.
But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.
"But Jesus turned to them." What is he doing? He looks directly at the women who are grieving and tells them not to cry for him. This is not about him. He turns their grief in a different direction. Why?
Not long before this day of his death, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a colt, and,
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it saying, “...you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (Luke 19:41-44)
Jesus weeps, too, but not for himself. He weeps for Jerusalem, the holy city. Rightfully, it belongs to God, but Jerusalem does not recognize the presence of God. Jesus calls the women the "daughters of Jerusalem." He reminds them that they rightfully belong to God, too. He invites them to weep not for him, but with him.
He says to them,
“For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
What is Jesus talking about? What does this mean? A stick of wood growing on a tree is difficult to break in two. It will bend and the fibres will separate, but the wood on the inside is greenish in colour. It has life within it. A stick of wood that has fallen from a tree and has dried out can easily be snapped in two. It no longer has life within it. Weep for Jerusalem, Jesus says, because even though the presence of God, the source of all Life, is within—it crucifies. When the source of all Life is no longer within Jerusalem, when Love is crucified, what then?
How will the women answer this question?
We know what happens next.
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.
We know the leaders, the soldiers, and one of the criminals scoff at Jesus. We know they taunt him, challenging him to save himself. But Jesus has already shown the women that this is not about him. It is not about saving himself.
Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.
What happens when the wood is dry?
When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.”
And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts.
Now, everyone weeps.
Well, not everyone:
But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Now, the women do not weep. Now, they watch.
We know what happens next. We know a good man named Joseph asks Pilate for Jesus' body. He has it,
wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning.
The sabbath, God's gift of holy time, is about to begin. What does this matter anymore, now that the wood is dry?
The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.
On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
Even when it seems the presence of God is gone for good, they prepare spices and ointments to bury his body according to their customs. Even when Love has been crucified, they rest according to the commandments of God. This is how the women answer Jesus' question. This is what they do when the wood is dry. They follow the customs and requirements of their faith.
The women of the Gospel are telling us something important. There are times in our lives when it seems like the presence of God is gone for good. There are times in our lives when Love is crucified. There are times in our lives when we wonder, what does any of this matter anymore, now that the wood is dry? These are the times when Jesus weeps with us. The women show us what to do. We follow the customs and requirements of our faith.
Why? Because we know what happens next. We know the first people to witness the Resurrection are the women.
Even when all seems lost, when the worst happens, we follow our faith, because like the women in the Gospel, we are people of hope. We will see that stone rolled away. We will see Love Resurrected.