Part 3 of a Lenten journey through the last seven sayings of Jesus.

“Some people choose Lent. Others have Lent thrust upon them.”

Doug Gay preached these words at Fitzroy Presbyterian a couple of Sundays ago. When I listened to the recording a few days later, I had little idea how prescient his words would prove to be.

Last Sunday afternoon, while having lunch with friends, I received word that one of my former students had died.

Though it had been some fourteen years or so since I taught her, Christina had popped into my mind just the week before. I was having lunch with one of her former classmates. As we reminisced, I remembered her smiling face, I could even hear her little voice. But at that moment, her name escaped me. Try as I could, I could not recall “Christina”.

And then that unwelcome text message. And with it, an immediate recollection, and a feeling of deep sorrow at a life that ended so young.

At the funeral, I sat looking at the photograph of an older Christina. The image was familiar to me and yet, at the same time, unfamiliar. There was still that infectious smile, but it was infused now with newfound joy in the two children pictured at her side. Nuzzled on her right was a little girl, not much older than our own daughter. And nursed on her left was a tiny baby, no more than six weeks old.

I thought again of Doug’s words. These children did not choose Lent. And yet, there in that church, they were confronted with the painful reality of this season’s inaugural words: from dust we are made, and to dust we shall return.

Today, more than a week on from Christina’s sudden death, I am aware that though the season rightly begins with these sobering words, our Lenten journey does not end with them. We are compelled to journey onwards, these seven weeks, to the cross. And there we discover different words, words spoken by Christ himself. We have reflected on two of these sayings already in this series, and today we find ourselves with a third, found this time in the Gospel of John:

“When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.

I’ll admit, I have not given much consideration to these words in the past. But I am grateful for them this week. They offer hope in the midst of despair, the promise of family when a mother is lost. In these compassionate words of Christ, we see what theologian Ada María Isasi-Díaz describes as the kin-dom of God, the radical knitting together of those who were once strangers as sisters and brothers in Christ. 

The words are a comfort, but they are also a challenge. Because it is for us to enact this kin-dom. It is for us to embrace the other as sister or brother, daughter or son, in the name of Christ.

Let us not forget, after all, that Christ’s words are given as a command. Admitedly, this is not something we observe in most contemporary translations, but it is apparent in renderings like the Authorised Version. There we do not read “Woman, here is your son” and, to the disciple, “here is your mother.” Instead, we read, “Woman, behold thy son […] behold thy mother.”

The word “behold” gives this saying an impetus that is easily missed in the NIV, or other modern translations. As disciples of Jesus, we are required to look upon the world differently. We are to open our eyes and see the reconciliation of the cross, the work of Christ that makes it possible for us to be joined together in the family of God.

I don’t know how much (if at all) Christina reflected on these words, but it seems to me that she understood something of this kindom of God, nevertheless.

Printed below the photograph of Christina and her girls was a line from what I imagine was a favourite film, Disney’s Lilo & Stitch.

If you don’t know the movie, it is about a young girl, Lilo, who is being raised by her older sister. Their lives are turned upside down when Stitch, a monstrous creature from outer space, takes refuge in their home. As you might guess, Lilo and Stitch soon become friends. And as Lilo teaches Stitch a new word, the wayward alien experiences a gift he has never before known.

“Ohana,” Lilo tells him, “means family, and family means no one gets left behind.”

On this third week in Lent, ohana is a word for us too. But it is one that must be preceded by another given to us by Christ. We must behold ohana. We must look through the cross to our mothers and fathers, our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters, related to us by the blood of Christ in the eternal kindom of God.