by Jerome Thomas, ISP Washington, DC 

I remember where I came from. I’m from the street, but God saw a better thing for me. I was a felon living in a halfway house, when I walked into Emmanuel Baptist Church, where I saw a banner that said, “Come Grow with Us.” I’m still trying to grow there. Around then I also first met the ISP-DC team, who welcomed me on my first retreat as if they were old friends. They later invited me to be a retreat witness and a team member, which I continue today. My church and ISP are new kinds of family to me.

Looking back to Good Friday, the day that changed the world forever, I recall the scene: Jesus is hanging from a wooden cross, a shameful death. He had been beaten, and soldiers gambled for the robe that he was wearing. While the crowd mocked and jeered, there were those present who really cared for Jesus. 

As Jesus looked down from the cross, He saw His mother, Mary, and beside her the disciple, John. A small group of bereaved souls who loved Jesus was a stark contrast to the rest of the mocking crowd that was calling for Jesus’ death. 

“When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside John, the disciple he loved, he said to her, ‘Dear woman, here is your son.’ And he said to this disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” – John 19:26-27 

Jesus was sent from God with love, and Jesus endured the mortal pain and suffering of this day for us. But given all that was happening to Him, Jesus still took the time to show His love for Mary and John, even then concerned about family, calling them and all those He loved to be together. Jesus gave the responsibility to Mary and John to care for each other.

Likewise, Jesus shows that no matter what is happening in our lives, a sense of family is a prime responsibility. What does this responsibility look like? Deserted by friends and disciples, rejected by His people, given over by His enemies, Jesus was still concerned for others’ welfare and relationships, especially for His aging widow mother and for His faithful disciple. Some of us can relate to that; sometimes rejected by family and friends, our community turned against us, we are still called to create and value family relationship.

In that scene at Golgotha, I try to imagine the thoughts and emotions of Mary’s heart. Jesus’ faithful mother stood there sorrowing at the foot of the cross. I myself remember being in a courtroom after a judge had sentenced me and seeing my mother’s face. She was devastated; her heart was hurt. While my suffering was not nearly as great as that of Jesus, my own mother’s expression helps me begin to imagine how Mary was hurt.

I recall that scene at the foot of the cross during the Easter season because it helps me remember an aspect of the resurrection: family lives on in new ways. Today we share in that kind of kinship. I consider how Jesus is the Son of God, the sacrificial lamb who delivered me from sin. How thankful I am right now, because there was no other pathway from my own sin but for Jesus dying on that cross. That Good Friday binds us to Him as brothers and sisters and children of God, as it did Mary and John on that day. 

Family was the plan from the beginning with Adam and Eve. Jesus expands that by entrusting his mourning mother and his unwavering disciple to one another. It is only as theory is translated into practice that our relationship with Christ becomes a living reality. Through our relationship with Jesus Christ, believers become members of a new family. As Jesus completed his earthly ministry, His words to Mary, “Woman, behold your son,” and to John, “Here is your mother,” were profoundly illustrative of God’s new family being born at the foot of the cross. Despite our circumstances, whatever we are going through, the death of Jesus on that old rugged cross binds all believers in the family of God.

Reflection Questions: When has pain or loss been a threat to your idea of family? Whom do you consider family? Has that changed over time? Do you feel you are a part of the family of God?

Jerome is now one of the leaders of the ISP-DC men’s team and just finished his two-year preparation in the second cohort of ISP’s Ambassadors of Hope. He works especially diligently to support ISP retreat alums to become witnesses and stay connected to the ISP community. He has worked as a peer-support specialist in the DC public library system, and currently works as a defendant liaison in a sentence diversion program in the DC court system. He was ordained as a deacon this past year in his church, Emmanuel Baptist Church. This reflection is adapted from a sermon he shared there on Good Friday.