Like yesterday’s Gospel reading from John, the framers of the Pastoral Care lectionary have another narrative for serving people who are sick and dying. It’s an interesting choice, as it involves the end of Luke’s Passion moving into the women’s visit to the empty tomb.
I’m not aware of any single liturgy in which Passion and Resurrection are blended together. Why would this Scripture be chosen? Same reasons as John 20:1-9. It’s Easter season. The seriously ill person may have experienced a significant spiritual experience of Lent, of a journey through the desert. Or a person may be very close to death and might benefit from knowing that, if we keep faith, we will certainly follow where Christ has gone.
It was now about noon
and darkness came over the whole land
until three in the afternoon
because of an eclipse of the sun.
Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle.
Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”;
and when he had said this he breathed his last.
It’s a curious thing that there would be a solar eclipse the week of Passover. That said, Jesus quotes Psalm 31. That’s not, by the way, one of the choices for a Pastoral Care psalm. But maybe it could be.
We have the first post-Passion witness, and a basic one from a Gentile. Jesus was innocent.
The centurion who witnessed what had happened
glorified God and said,
“This man was innocent beyond doubt.”
When all the people who had gathered
for this spectacle saw what had happened,
they returned home beating their breasts;
but all his acquaintances stood at a distance,
including the women who had followed him
from Galilee and saw these events.
Note the difference between Mark’s Passion (where Jesus is alone) and John (where Jesus engages his mother and his beloved disciple from the cross. Luke seems to echo the feeling of many Christians. Deep down, many of us are disturbed by Jesus’ death. Even though we know how it turns out, we can’t escape human depravity in the narrative.
Fast-forward to the third day, women venture into the garden:
But at daybreak on the first day of the week
they took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb;
but when they entered,
they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
First, the empty tomb confronts us.
While they were puzzling over this,
behold, two men in dazzling garments appeared to them.
They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground.
They said to them,
“Why do you seek the living one among the dead?
He is not here, but he has been raised.
In the Bible, fear is a frequent reaction to supernatural messengers. As this Gospel commences, remember Mary seems unperturbed by Gabriel. What would our reaction be? Maybe we can answer the question: where do we seek Jesus? Do we look in death and darkness? Do we ponder him in the light of faith and in the life of the world? I opt for choice #2.
For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.