Apr. 7, 2012
Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
Yesterday was Good Friday. On Good Friday 2002, I experienced one of the most poignant understandings of Holy Week. At the time, I was serving the Denzer and North Freedom United Methodist Churches. We had planned an outdoor Good Friday service at Jim and Karen Severance’s farm. Off the beaten path, we parked on a field’s edge. And after hearing the events from John’s Gospel leading up to the crucifixion, one adult and three kids carried a cross up a hill. The crowd followed behind and watched the cross put into a hole. Draped with a black cloth and bearing a crown of thorns, this service has proven to be a very meaningful.
The Denzer church is located at a country four-corners. There’s the church, the town hall, a bar and about a dozen houses. Just south of Denzer is a dairy farm, owned and operated by the Everett and Lehman families. Like everyone in Denzer, my heart sank when it was discovered that Harvey Everett, the elder Everett, had a brain tumor. Harvey was a very active and healthy 60-something-year-old man. By spring 2002, chemotherapy treatments had stopped.
I first met Harvey and his wife Ruth at Denzer UMC’s “Live Nativity.” He introduced himself and reminded me that although he attended the Lutheran church down the road, we are still brothers and sisters in Christ. I visited Ruth and Harvey several times since the cancer diagnosis. At one visit,Harvey shared with me a card he had received from Jim Severance, the Good Friday service host. I told Harvey about our Good Friday worship service. He told Ruth that they were going to go. I didn’t think much of it, as it had become increasingly difficult for Harvey to get out.
The week before Good Friday, Harvey’s health was questionable. But a determined Harvey decided he was not going to miss the service. The day began cloudy and dreary. By the 1:30 appointed gathering time, we enjoyed sunshine and partly cloudy skies. Harveywas positioned in the passenger seat of an SUV. After reading the 18th chapter of John, Harvey and the SUV led the march up the hill, followed by the cross and everyone else. Lawn chairs speckled the prairie grass and were filled. After hearing about Jesus’ crucifixion, we had an opportunity to hammer a nail into the cross, reminding ourselves that Christ died for each one of us. The last nail hammered into the cross was one I put there in honor of Harvey.
Moved to tears myself, this day on the hill reminded me what Jesus has done for me – that Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. And at the cross, Jesus died for my sins. At the cross, Jesus gave me life again.
At the close of the service, we handed out nails dipped in red paint, as a reminder to each of us what Christ has accomplished for us. As I walked over to give a nail to Harvey, he said the most beautiful words of the day. “Jesus died on that cross before I was born,” he said between sobs. “Jesus died so that I will never have to die.”
Jesus died on that cross before I was born. Jesus died so that I will never have to die. I’ve completed seminary, studied the Bible and read tons of theological books. But in the end, it comes down to that Jesus died on a cross before I was born. Jesus died so that I will never have to die. It really isn’t any more complicated than this. On Good Friday, a 60-something-year-old man, dying of cancer who just wanted to attend Good Friday Service on the hill, ministered to the minister.
Many of folks questioned why Harvey suffered from cancer. He was a person who always gave of himself. Maybe I saw a bit of the reason why.Harveytaught me that we never have to die. Because Jesus died, death has been conquered. Every day is Easter day because Jesus has already suffered and bore our sins. Life is worth the living because we know He lives. We just must choose whether to be Easter people every day of our lives.
Let us pray: Jesus to Calvary did go; his love for sinners to show. What he did there brought hole from despair. O how he loves you; O how he loves me; O how he loves you and me! Amen.