Friday, April 22, 2011

At the foot of the cross

For an hour today I watched from the foot of the cross, from the bottom of the hill, with the other women.

Every year from forever ago our congregation has held a prayer vigil on Good Friday. Once upon a time they would all come to the church at the time they had committed to pray and sit in the sanctuary for 30 or 60 minutes, depending. We would set out candles and meditation books on the communion table for those who liked to use those things in their prayer practice. Over time, as some members of the congregation got older and other members got busier, more and more people signed up to pray at home instead of in the sanctuary. This year only one person besides me signed up to spend her prayer time in the sanctuary. *sigh*

My hour was from noon to 1 pm. I read the lectionary readings for the day while sitting in the first pew. In front of me was the wooden communion table with the words "In Remembrance of Me" carved on the front. Above me in the center of the wall is the stained glass cross. As I sat there, awash in the silence, the phrase "at the foot of the cross" from John's gospel reading kept coming back to me. The cross stretched so high above me, as it must have stretched high above the women at the foot of the hill, at the foot of the cross. I wondered what it must have been like to be in that place, to watch your nephew, your teacher, your son, die such an agonizing death. I've sat with my own family and with members of my congregation watching loved ones die, wondering which would be the last breath, holding our own breath as we waited for that last agonizing wheeze to be expelled, for that last moment when you can see the life seep out of the body. But our experiences are in hospital and hospice and home. We could touch the hand of the one we loved. We could lay our cheek on theirs, and whisper our last loving words. From the foot of the cross, from the bottom of that hill, the women watched a man die tortured and tormented, bleeding, unreachable and alone. And today I was there with them.

I wondered why that had never really come to my mind on all those other Good Fridays. I have walked and prayed the Stations of the Cross I don't know how many times. I've prayed in front of life sized Stations outdoors and 5x7 reproductions on the wall of a Catholic school cafeteria and everything in between. I've walked the Stations because my parents required it when I was a child and because I desired to as an adult. But somehow it never occurred to me before that my place on Good Friday was with the women at the foot of the cross. But today . . .

. . . today for an hour I stood with the other women. With the other women I watched from the bottom of hill, at the foot of the cross.