Let us pray: We praise you O Christ and we adore you, because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world. Amen
The events we hear about each year on Good Friday are difficult to hear. For some of us, the events starting with Jesus’s arrest and ending with his crucifixion and death can become overwhelming, can cause such spiritual pain that we can sink into the abyss, especially after the rich but sometimes difficult season of Lent –– and for others of us, a different reaction can happen: the depth of the pain is blocked, skimmed over, and we move straight to Easter in our mind. And depending which of the Gospels is proclaimed, the events as portrayed in them can affect us in different ways because they are written from different perspectives. In the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus is depicted as a victim, often referred to as the suffering servant. Today/night we see John’s Jesus, the non-wavering Jesus, the Jesus who does not falter, who stays strong.
From the perspective of this Gospel, we see the political and the religious powers of the day come together in a type of unholy alliance, if you will. Chief Priests, soldiers, police, and some of the Pharisees all swirl around each other: Jews and Romans alike, with their own fears and their own baggage and agendas. They pass power and control back and forth among them — all culminating in confusion and chaos, that as we know, will lead to Jesus’s crucifixion. It can seem as if no one is really in control.
But if we look more closely we see in John’s Gospel, that Jesus is in control, right from the beginning when he directs the soldiers in his own arrest. Jesus remains in control when Peter loses control…when he crumbles. And we know that Peter will — and he will do it spectacularly. And even though we know he is going to fall asleep, and that he is going to cut off the slave’s ear, and then he will deny Jesus the three times, we still, every time we hear the story, want to yell out at him, “No, don’t do it, you’ll be sorry”. And then he does it. And it is so easy to judge, to get angry or frustrated with him. But you know, we really shouldn’t….because we all do it….we all deny Jesus through our sin. We all have places where we lack the courage to stand fast.
Pilate gives Jesus ample opportunity during his interrogation to stop the crucifixion — but Jesus doesn’t, he could easily have prevented his death – but he allows the events to unfold. In fact, Pilot waffles repeatedly, going inside and outside between the crowd and Jesus……………….and Jesus stays in control of the examination, standing quietly, answering only when he chooses, while Pilot scurries in and out, trying to persuade the crowd to let Jesus go free…until he finally succumbs and hands Jesus over.
Jesus remains in control on the journey to Golgotha, carrying the cross alone, no women along the way wiping his brow, no Simon of Cyrene to remove the burden from his shoulders. He speaks calmly from the cross itself to those standing near the foot of the cross, giving direction for how his mother’s and the disciple he loves futures will occur – and with that direction the first Christian family is born through the love hanging from a cross.
Even at the hour of his death, Jesus remains in charge, not the soldiers who come to hasten his death. No one takes his life from him. He gives it. He hands it over of his own free will. He stays in charge, determining when to lay his life down – saying, “It is Finished”. We see Jesus at his greatest hour through the Johannine perspective. Jesus dies and Christianity is born.
Jesus’s death in John’s telling is often called his Glorification. In this Gospel he is the king who reigns from the throne of the cross. And while the image of Jesus as King can cause discomfort for some of us, it is perhaps an apt metaphor to think about at the time of his death. John reminds us that the marginalized, the suffering, the oppressed are not saved by a commitment to the authority of the world’s kings, the world’s rulers, but through the grace of the love of the kingdom of God.
Just as Jesus spent the last three years of his life teaching those around him how to live, through John’s perspective, Jesus teaches us how to die: simply and with majesty. He continues to teach us, staying true to his mission — right through his death — that all of life is a preparation for our physical death and movement into the next realm of our journey in God’s eternity.
Bishop Barbara Harris often quotes the author Barbara Johnson, when she reminds us that: “We are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world.” As part of our awareness that we live in a Good Friday world with all of its brokenness, we are urged by John’s Gospel to know that we can cling to Jesus’s teachings and to the meaning of Christ’s kingdom. I am reminded of the Lutheran New Testament scholar Guy Nave, who said, “On Good Friday, let us examine our own religious-political allegiances to make sure we are not claiming that we have “no king but the emperor.”.
So today, is a Good Friday, for Christ reigned triumphant on the cross, and through his resurrection he overcomes the finality of death. On that day so long ago, he stretched his arms out in love between heaven and Earth, in order to unite us once and for all, as People of God.
Today…………on this Good Friday, let us as present day beloved disciples of Christ, gather as part of the Christian family. Today……on this Good Friday let us sit at the foot of the cross, grieve together and give thanks for the One who does not crumble.
In the name, and for the sake of, our crucified Lord. Amen