March 29, 2024 (Good Friday)

“A Eulogy for Jesus”

In our Lenten Devotional Study groups this week, we pondered the theme of “Grief.” We shared about some of our own experiences of grief at the death of a friend or family member, and about some of the things that were helpful for us as we worked through our mourning.

And then we talked about Jesus and his death. We thought about the people who were present when Jesus died, who were crying out in anguish at the loss of their loved one. Their grief was complicated because it wasn’t just a friend who died, but the Teacher they had come to believe would be their Messiah. It was not only loss and longing that they felt, but also confusion about what to do next. If the Messiah was dead, what now?

It’s not quite the same for us today. On Good Friday, we normally tell the story of Jesus’ passion and death, remembering the horror of his unjust arrest and execution, and sitting in the feelings that evokes for us. But we also know that it’s not the end of the story, and that he will be raised. We won’t hunker down and cry through Saturday like they might have done, but we’ll wait with anticipation for the celebration that we know is coming on Sunday morning.

One of the things we agreed about in our study groups was that when someone dies, there are some things we need to do. The exact rituals and practices can vary in different cultures, communities, or even families. But we need to have safe spaces to express our feelings. We need to have the chance to talk about the person who died – lamenting our loss, giving thanks for all the good that came into the world through them, sharing tears and laughter with people who knew them too, and entrusting our loved one into God’s care.

So, on this Good Friday as we mark the death of Jesus, our Friend, our Teacher, our Lord, and our Saviour, we are doing the things that people need to do when someone they love has died. Thanks to the study group participants for your contributions to this eulogy for Jesus. Just like any family or group of friends preparing for a funeral or a “celebration of life,” this eulogy (literally, a “good word”) was prepared by gathering the stories, memories, and favourite moments in Jesus’ life from some of his good friends here at First Church.

Jesus of Nazareth was born some time around the year 0, possibly as early as the year 4 BCE. Jesus is survived by his mother, Mary, several brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and a significant group of students that he considered good friends.

Jesus’ death was very sudden, tragic, and unjust. He was terribly young, and we are all feeling a lot of shock and confusion about what has happened in the last few days. But I want to say thank you to Joseph of Arimathea for taking care of the burial arrangements. And thank you to the two Marys who will be bringing spices to prepare Jesus’ body for eternal rest.

Jesus grew up in the home of a carpenter, so he learned that trade. He could have made a good living with the skills he learned when he was young, but his passion was for something else. He loved to read Scripture and explore deep questions of life, God, meaning, purpose, and human relationships.

Some here will remember when he was only 12 years old and the whole family was up in Jerusalem for one of the great festivals. Mary has told this story many times, about how Jesus disappeared that day. She had all the other children and cousins rounded up and they had started the journey home to Nazareth, but suddenly they realized that the eldest, Jesus, was not with them. You know where he was, right? Sitting in the temple with the teachers and scribes. Asking questions, discussing, debating, and doing a fair amount of teaching himself! He was only twelve! But that was Jesus.

When he finally decided to leave the carpenter’s life and went out on the road to teach and preach, he was always in conversations like that about God, the universe, and everything. He told stories to the crowds that gathered to listen for his wisdom in parables, and he explained what they meant to his closest followers that he gathered to go along with him. He discussed and debated with the religious experts, and never flinched or backed down, even when they tried to trick him or trap him into saying something he shouldn’t.

Jesus had special relationships with so many good friends, and most of his disciples will always treasure the memory of the first time they met him, and when he called them to follow. They dropped their fishing nets, or left their tax booths, or leapt up from their sick beds to become his students, friends, and followers.

Of course, we’ll all remember the parties, won’t we? Jesus was always in the middle of any get-together with food and friends. John always talked about the time that Jesus saved the wedding at Cana from the disaster of running out of wine. But we all have so many memories of sharing at table with Jesus. Sometimes he was the host, and very often he was the guest, but Jesus always made you feel welcome and included and loved – pulling out an extra cushion and inviting you to sit down to talk and share.

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were some of Jesus’ best friends, with whom he often stayed when he was passing through Bethany. They discovered that he didn’t stay with them just because their house was convenient to Jerusalem, or because they served the best food, but he really cared about them and wanted to spend time with them. If they ever doubted that love, it was confirmed when Lazarus got so sick and suddenly died. It took several days before Jesus could get there, but when he did, you could see from his tears how much he loved his friend. And everyone was amazed when Jesus somehow brought him back to life!

Jesus’ relationships with his disciples were deep, but his love was also wide. His closest friends were diverse in their backgrounds, and he included both women and men in his travelling group. But Jesus was well known for his compassion and care for people on the margins.

He wasn’t too important to associate with tax collectors or prostitutes. He wasn’t afraid to touch and heal people with contagious diseases. And he treated everyone with respect and care, whether they had grown up in the same village or belonged to another ethnic or religious group altogether.

Of course, we should acknowledge that even though Jesus loved everyone, not everyone loved Jesus. This hardly makes sense to those of us who knew him well, and who are devastated by his sudden and horrific death. But Jesus was misunderstood by many people in authority.

Some of them thought that he was going to overthrow the leadership and try to become the king. Others thought that he was a heretic and a blasphemer, probably because of his very close relationship with God. People couldn’t understand that. I think mostly they were scared of losing power, and Jesus’ power was coming out more and more strongly in the last couple of years.

One of his friends joked that Jesus did like to host meals, but he liked to do it the easy way. Instead of cooking dinner, he just asked a little boy to share his bread and fish and then Jesus did a miracle – multiplying the boy’s lunch until it was enough to feed five thousand. Easier than ordering take-out!

But Jesus’ miracles made the authorities nervous – whether he was healing sick people, casting out demons, walking on water, or raising the dead. Most people were amazed and delighted, but others started to scheme and plot to get rid of him.

It probably didn’t help that Jesus didn’t always follow the rules. He knew the rules, especially the commandments of God, but he knew them in a different kind of way. He knew the heart of what God wanted him to do and be, and sometimes he had to break the letter of the law in order to do what was truly right and good.

I wish I could say that we all stood by Jesus when everything started to go down around Passover in Jerusalem, but we have to admit that we got scared too. Some of us betrayed him, others denied knowing him, and the rest of us just got out of the way so that we wouldn’t be arrested too. Mary, we’re deeply sorry that we reacted like that. Our hearts are broken with yours, for the loss of your dear son and our dear friend.

I think that if Jesus were with us today, he would tell us not to stay here and wallow in sorrow and sadness. But he’d tell us to remember him and to honour him by living in the ways he taught us.

He’d say, “Keep on telling the stories I told.” He’d say, “Remember my teaching, and live according to the most important commandments to love God and love your neighbours.” He’d say, “Keep on getting together to share bread and wine and spend time together. Remember me and my love, and keep that love going.”

Peter will tell you that the most important thing Jesus did for him was during that last supper we shared together. We’ve all been talking about how unusual it was for a Rabbi to wash the feet of his dinner guests, but that’s exactly what Jesus did. But then he spoke about it like he already knew it would be our last meal together.

He said, “As I have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet.” So I guess that’s what he would want us to do now. Serve one another. Care for one another in the midst of our grief.

And let’s not give up, because somehow, I don’t think Jesus’ death is going to mean the end of his impact on us and the world. Somehow, I think his love will go on. Isn’t that what he was always telling us and preparing us for?

Thank you for being here today, friends. May our Friend, Teacher, and Lord Jesus live on through our lives, as we follow in his footsteps and share his love in the world today and long into the future.