When ask this question, we both speak to our experience of sadness, or guilt, or grief, or fear over Jesus’ death, but we also anticipate the new future that God is working in the world. After all, there is only one way this story can end—with an empty tomb and a risen Christ.
Vicar Anna Helgen
Sunday of the Passion, year C
text: Luke 22:14-23:56
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What do we do now?
We ask this question following a life-changing event, like a death or diagnosis, the birth or adoption of a child, the loss of a job. This question speaks to our fear, our grief, our guilt, our vulnerability. It addresses our need to do something—whatever that might be—in the midst of an experience we don’t yet understand and perhaps can’t quite believe has happened. Even in the uncertainty, we know that things have changed, that the world is different now, that the future will bring something new.
This question must have crossed the minds of those who witnessed Jesus’ death, those who saw firsthand the brutality, the terror, the pain. What do we do now? Now that Jesus—the Savior of the world—has been put to death? What do we do? The one who came to bring good news to the poor, who proclaimed release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, who let the oppressed go free, and who proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor, he is dead. He died on the cross. So what do we do now?
Luke captures a variety of responses to that question. The centurion feels the need to share his feelings about the situation by praising God and exclaiming, “Certainly this man was innocent!” The crowds, on the other hand, are confused, sad, and possibly frightened, so they return home, perhaps hoping to escape for a moment the reality of what has just taken place or maybe even to hide, afraid about what might soon be unleashed on them. And then there are Jesus’ friends—his acquaintances and a group of women—who stand together at a distance and watch the scene unfold, their unwavering presence a sign of their love and devotion.
During Holy Week, it’s easy for us to identify with this group of friends because we too stand at a distance. Jesus died a long time ago, in a land that feels far away from us. But as we hear the Passion story, we come together with these witnesses and watch the events unfold. We stand together with all the people of God to reflect and wonder. And in light of Jesus’ death, we try to answer that question for ourselves: what do we do now?
Perhaps we can take a clue from these faithful women who continue to follow Jesus, even to the place of his burial, to that “rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid.” These women are devout and law-abiding Jews. They have work to do! They follow Joseph of Arimathea to this tomb so they know where Jesus will be buried and they discover that he is placed in an empty tomb. There are no other bodies here. This will be an important detail when the women return to anoint Jesus’ body.
The women must go back home after seeing the tomb, however, because the Sabbath is beginning and as practicing Jews, they must refrain from doing work. So the women leave to prepare spices and ointments that they will plan to use when they return to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. But for now, they rest, according to the commandment. Even in their grief, they fall back on the rituals and traditions they know best.
So what about us? What do we do now? Now that we have heard this story again and have stood together with these witnesses?
When we ask this question during Holy Week, we both speak to our experience of sadness, or guilt, or grief, or fear over Jesus’ death, but we also anticipate the new future that God is working in the world. We can trust that God’s promises will be fulfilled because we know how this story ends. After all, there is only one way it can end—with an empty tomb and a risen Christ.
But today, and in the days ahead, we’re invited to stand with these women, to visit the tomb and see where Jesus is buried, to linger in the space between death and resurrection. To enter into our own rituals and traditions—like the procession of the palms, the footwashing, the sharing of a meal together. Like the women, we too are invited to observe this Sabbath rest by immersing ourselves in the story of God, which also happens to be the story of our lives. This story is a story of promise, hope, a story where God makes all things new.
What do we do now?
We watch. We wait. We witness together as the events unfold.