As part of an online Lenten series featuring the lives of St. Clare and the women in her cloister, I was invited to consider how two prominent disciplines in their communal life (contemplation and community) intersected with Jesus and his journey to the cross.
I remembered that throughout the years of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the twelve apostles (plus a number of others) formed a community around him. They walked lots of miles with him, cared and provided for him, did life with him. They heard him preach, watched him perform miracles, and did ministry with him. Jesus’ experience with these folks was a mixed bag. Sometimes they were engaged and responded well to him and his teaching (John 6:68). More often, they seemed clueless and, at some points, even against him (see Mark 8:31-34 or Mark 9:10). And in the final hours leading to the cross, when Jesus needed his community most, what did he experience — especially from those closest to him?
Peter, James, and John couldn’t stay awake with Jesus in the garden as he prayed. When Jesus was arrested, “all of them deserted him and fled” including one guy who ran away naked (Mark 14:50ff). Later that evening Peter denies he even knows Jesus.
Misunderstanding. Betrayal. Abandonment. Denial.
These, too, are part of the Passion story, the sufferings of Jesus.
Except the women.
Contrary to the way Jesus’ death, in particular, is often described in sermons, articles, and hymns (“He bore my burden to Calvary and suffered and died alone”), it is clear the women were present.*
There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem. (Mark 15:40-41)
How much they were (were not) involved in those last days, we do not know, but they were there at his crucifixion. They watched as his tortured body was nailed to a cross and hoisted up for all to see. They heard the taunts and jeers. They endured the cries of agony — Jesus’ and their own. They held their own breath each time he gasped for air (wondering if it was the end) until with his last breath he cried, “It is finished!” They stayed with him through the entire horrendous ordeal and beyond, waiting to see where he was buried so they could anoint his body after the Sabbath. Their loving care for their Lord meant they were the first witnesses to his resurrection.
In addition to Lent, during March, we also observe Women’s History Month. How grateful I am for the legacy of these women — gut-wrenching and soul-crushing as it was, they did not forsake Jesus. And observing them, I sense Jesus inviting me to “stay with him” this Lenten season.
True confession — I have a hard time with the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. I remember as a kid watching films and feeling sick to my stomach when the shift came from Galilean countryside teaching and healing scenes to intensifying antagonistic interactions in Jerusalem. It felt like this ball had started rolling down a hill. I knew where it would end and I couldn’t stop it. I hated the trial, beating, and crucifixion scenes. I was always a wreck and the resurrection didn’t quite make up for it, frankly. So being invited to stay with Jesus initially left me feeling a bit uneasy. So, I asked, “Jesus, where are you? In Lent 2023, where are you so I can stay with you?”
Imagine my gratitude when I came upon this passage in Gordon Smith’s Your Calling Here and Now in the reading for the Women Scholars and Professionals book club:
It is helpful to think of there being four distinct practices that foster our capacity—regardless of our specific calling or vocation—to live and work with an attentiveness to the presence of Christ in the world (my emphasis) and, further, to decenter ourselves and cut the nerve of narcissism and self-obsession. (pg. 134)
Smith goes on to name these practices as hospitality, works of mercy, generosity, and intercession. Here was an invitation to activities I could practice which would help me discern, experience, and serve Jesus in my world during this season. As I read on and reflected, it became pretty clear to me where/how Jesus is inviting me to stay with him.
How about you?
- How has your community been there for you when you needed it? How have you felt let down by your community? How have you let others down?
- What do you want to say to Jesus about these things?
- As you read the stories of Jesus during Lent and revisit the events of Holy Week, what are you being invited to? How will you stay with Jesus?
- How might the faithfulness (or lack of it) of those in Jesus’ community inform the way you think about Jesus and walk with him through Lent?
As I mentioned at the beginning, I’ve been meditating on the life of St. Clare this Lent and finding inspiration in her practices. Upon entering the cloister, St. Clare and her sisters found themselves in a ready-made community where, in the nitty gritty of communal life, they had opportunities to learn and live out the disciplines mentioned above. They discovered the Christ they adored in their personal times of reflection and worship was the same Christ present to them in the mundane activities of the cloister and in one another. The daily habits of service in their community deepened their attentiveness to the presence of Christ, enabling them to “stay with Jesus” during Holy Week and beyond. May it be true for us as well.
*To be fair, I should point out that according to John’s gospel (Jn 19:25ff), he also was present.
Photo by Aaron Burden on StockSnap