Those who assembled readings for the sick and dying included a rarity, a passage that includes both the Lord’s Death and Resurrection. Usually reserved for Holy Week, I perceive an attempt to link the suffering and triumph of the Lord with the experience of a dying person.
First, an excerpt from Palm Sunday’s Gospel this year:
At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “Look, he is calling Elijah.” One of them ran, soaked a sponge with wine, put it on a reed, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to take him down.” Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
I wrote up a bulletin piece once that looked at Jesus’ phrase “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” How can he say that? Didn’t he have perfect knowledge? What does it mean?
It’s important to place these words in the mouth of a First Century Jew as well as the Son of God. Jesus might be citing a shortened version, a meme if you will, of Psalm 22. Maybe he prayed the whole lyric while hanging on that cross. I like to interpret this as the Lord’s experience of all human suffering, physical and sociological. We recall Jesus’ experiences of being stripped of clothing, mocked, and abandoned by his closest friends. How often the sick and dying are stripped of possessions, told they are at fault for their own infirmities, and belittled for having faith. Jesus knew that experience.
I think the centurion’s affirmation of the Lord is important. He joins Peter and Martha of Bethany as one of three souls who recognized Jesus as more than a teacher and miracle worker. That is significant, both for how we view non-believers encountering Jesus in today’s world, and the necessity of our own need to transcend simple deism. In other words, Jesus is a friend–not in a therapeutic way a counsellor or professor might be. Jesus is an authentic companion because he experienced the human condition. Even the debilitating, humiliating side of it.
From the Easter Vigil Gospel of year B:
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large. On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold, the place where they laid him.
Think of the young man as a witness to the Lord. This testimony urges us not to dwell on the humiliation. We remember it, of course. Sickness, injury, and bodily calamity form us. But they need not rule us. They exist not to drag us down, but to give us that commonality with other needy persons, as well as the Lord himself.
We are encouraged when faced with triumph: don’t be amazed. I think of the modern athletic coach who chides his team for celebrating over much. The reason? Act like you’ve been there. Act like you expected to win.
When we experience grace from God, perhaps the witness here is also urging confidence. Don’t be amazed that you are healed. Don’t be amazed that you have experienced God. Don’t be amazed you are heading into eternal paradise. Of course Jesus has provided. Of course Jesus has crush the head of evil. Of course Jesus has risen. He promised, didn’t he? He’ll help us triumph as well, no matter how grave our infirmity.
For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.