Today as we move in and through this holy day of Good Friday, we are reminded of many of the story's pieces. People who participated, people who witnessed, and Jesus who endured the crucifixion. People whose lives were forever changed. We are told on that history-changing day there were women who followed beside the procession and then stayed at the cross. That day these women witnessed violence and pain, degradation and anguish. Standing at the cross and bearing witness while Jesus was being crucified must have been unimaginable. It was only days before with him when everyone had been singing and there had been dancing in the streets. It must have been incomprehensible. I can only imagine their strength and courage, their pain and desperation. The strength they had to stand and watch, to weep and wait. I can only imagine how their hearts must have been breaking. What a horrible death. What a horrible time for them.
We don’t know who they were. We aren’t told their names. We don’t know how they knew Jesus. Luke’s gospel says that they had followed him from Galilee. As some point in time their lives had intersected with Jesus in a way that gave them the love to stay.
It is impossibly hard to stand with someone who is in pain. It’s tender, heartbreaking, gut wrenching. And somehow at the same time, it is one of the authentic ways of living love. Somehow, as unbelievably painful as it is, bearing witness feels like a privilege. The last place you want to be, the last place you would leave.
These unnamed women stayed through with him on the day Jesus was crucified. What an amazing act of presence to give to Jesus. This one who was Emmanuel, “God with us.” Standing there, they were for him, a physical reminder that he was not alone. They stayed through his dying and his death. They stayed until he was taken down from the cross. They stayed.
Watch one hour with me.
Stay just away by my side.
When my alleluia days,
turn into blues and grays
be my guide.
Stay a while.
Watch with me.
Years and years ago when I was in college, I learned this song. It’s always been a friend when it comes back round again. All those years ago I knew the immeasurable gift of someone standing with me, waiting with me as the storm was approaching. When we offer the gift of presence to an act great or horrific, we are offering our whole selves. Our hearts, minds, and bodies bear witness to what is happening. When there is absolutely nothing else we can do to change the outcome, we can stay.
This act of presence and resolution happens more often than we know. For survivors of the Holocaust, bearing witness was for many, their life work. For those who have recently witnessed separations of families at the border, bearing witness alerted all of us to this unthinkable act. Our Lenten journey has brought us to this place, to this moment. There are times when we have the opportunity to stand with someone when they are enduring perhaps the most painful moment of their lives. We can’t fix it. We can’t change the circumstances. All we can do is be with them in this time. May this gift of presence shown by those unnamed women centuries ago serve as a candle when we are with another going through the darkness.