Someone once asked me what it would have been like to look upon Jesus as he hung on the cross. Usually when we think about the cross we rarely put ourselves down below. We give ourselves a bird’s eye view. A lot of us view him directly across from the crosses next to him. Sometimes we view from above. But what is it like to put ourselves down below? With Mary his mother, his siblings, his disciples, with Mary Magdalene? To look up upon the cross as his tears and sweat fell… then slowly stopped coming at all. To grasp the rough hewn wood of the cross to cling to any connection to him. To see and feel drops of his blood hit your face, hands and clothes? To wait with him as he died. To watch him cry out in agony as his body wretched, shuddered, collapsed and rose and then collapsed in agony again and again. To see his tendons and muscle exposed. To hear the birds circling and the silence of the heat of the day sizzle across the sands and his skin.
The Jewish people have a tradition called Sitting Shiva. This usually happens on the third day after the initial death of a loved one. Family members and close friends come to the house of mourning and sit low. They sit low on short stools, chairs, or the ground to embrace the pain and the weight of loss. They just sit. And mourn. They are just there so those grieving know they are not alone. And their grief is loud. And Agonizing. Weeping, crying out and praying out loud are common. Very few cultures hold in grief like we Americans do.
I cannot help but connect these two images in my mind. To sit Shiva at the base of the cross with our Lord as he died. To sit low. Which is exactly what Jesus had been doing for us for 33 years. Sitting Shiva. He came into our mourning here in our world and sat with us for 33 years. He sat low. He lived low. He then embraced the full weight of our mourning and carried it to the gates of Hell and back again. He eradicated our need to continue to sit Shiva.
Yet here we sit tonight. A lot of us. Mourning. Just in my circle tonight: a Grandmother. A Daughter. A friend. And the memory of a Mother. Some of you have literally sat at the bottom of the cross this week as you watched your loved ones strain and grasp at life. Tubes, machines, and exposed muscle and tendon. For some of you it’s time to remember what it was like sitting in that place this week. For the rest of us, we gather a little bit down hill grasping at hands, holding steady in support because the bottom of the cross is always closer than we allow ourselves to think.
I have a belief that the Lord doesn’t view time in our linear way. I believe God handles time like a Time Lord. He smooshes it together and pulls it apart. It’s more cyclical in nature. And I believe that Jesus, while on the cross bearing our sin, our mourning, our grief, actually sat Shiva with every loss from our beginning to end.
He’s sitting shiva with us all, feeling the pain, entrenching himself in what it feels like to grieve. Even as he is on the cross, he sits low with us and feels the raw. Oh yes there is a time to celebrate his conquest and his rising again! Oh yes there is a time to stop sitting Shiva and to celebrate his salvation! Oh yes there is a time to open the doors and live again! But that was just one moment in His story. The rest was 33 years of sitting Shiva with us in our grief.
Dear ones be careful not to expunge your grief by moving on too quickly to the hope of salvation. For Christ sat with you in your grief. Before he rose, he sat Shiva. Before there was life in Lazarus, He wept. Allow him to sit with you. Allow yourself to sit with your grief. There is a time to rise, but we must first sit low.
And we who walk beside those who mourn must learn that sitting Shiva may last 33 years. And that’s O.K. It’s not about how long we sit Shiva. It is just important that we sat.