Rev. Teri Peterson
St John’s / OGA
John 19 NIV
30 March 2018, Good Friday (NL4)
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.
Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”
But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
“Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,
“They divided my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.”
So this is what the soldiers did.
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”
Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
It is finished.
It feels so final....because it is. Death is the most “final” thing in our human experience. Sometimes, hopefully most times, we encounter it at the end of a long life—and we say “she lived a good full life.” Sometimes we narrowly escape and we say “it wasn’t my time yet.” Occasionally we might joke about ghosts, saying they’re hanging around because they have “unfinished business.” And, more often than we wish, we hear about someone gone too soon, and we say “they had their whole lives ahead of them” or “they had so much left to do, to give, to teach, to create, to learn, to say.”
It feels jarring, then, for a man who was just 33 years old to say “it is finished” as he breathed his last.
It’s hard to imagine that his work is finished. The world could have done with more of his teaching, his healing, his praying, his presence.
The loss must have felt overwhelming to his friends and family. Many of us have known that grief, that sense of life cut short, of wishing for more time, of hopes dashed, of light extinguished far too soon.
I often say that the Gospel According to John looks at Jesus from above, from a cosmic perspective. John’s opening words are “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
And yet here, at what seems to be the end, we are pulled down from the heights of heaven into the valley of the shadow of death. It doesn’t get much more opposite than this—from the lofty abstract divine poetry to the depths of human pain, betrayal, and grief.
And yet that is exactly what the cross does—draws a straight line from heaven to earth, from the abstract to the all-too-real, from God to humanity.
Sometimes I think we have preferred God to be in the pretty words, the beautiful artwork, the wonder of creation...and then we have lost the ability to see God in the shadowed valley. We ask “where was God” when tragedy strikes. We can’t see the face of God in the midst of hurt, brokenness, or despair. We look at the world, which looks so unlike the kingdom of heaven, and wonder how it can be possible that Jesus’ work was accomplished. When we are surrounded by, and participating in, greed, sexism, racism, poverty, judgment, grief, anxiety, and so much more that wounds us, our neighbours, and our world...how can we see God, let alone proclaim Jesus’ work is finished?
I am reminded of the story of a Polish children’s author and orphanage director, who moved with the 200 orphaned children he cared for into the Warsaw ghetto, and later accompanied them to their deaths in Treblinka. He encouraged them to put on plays, to dress nicely, to continue their lessons, up until the very end. He was offered his own freedom multiple times, but said he would not leave “his” children. He knew what lay ahead, but he refused to save himself, walking with them every step of the way, holding their hands, cheering them, holding out hope to them, embracing them even at the end. We might well ask “where was God” in the Warsaw ghetto, or the extermination camps, or the battlefields, just as we ask it about Gaza, and Syria, and Grenfell, and Parkland. The answer is right here: walking alongside those who suffer. Not far away, not trapped in beautiful paintings or perfect poetic phrases, not just enthroned among the stars, but there in the crowded trains and dusty roads, holding the hands of children.
This is what we see on the cross, the line pulling together heaven and earth: the man who gave himself to us...walked with us the road of this world’s suffering, stretched out his arms in welcome and embrace, gathering people to himself, and offered his life to our brokenness that we might finally see the truth: that there is no separation barrier between that cosmic poetic vision of God’s grace and our humanity. The cross reaches from the heights to the depths to show us the breadth of God’s love. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, when it feels like hope has been extinguished, the light shines and darkness did not overcome it. And while that particular work is indeed finished, the light still shines—for Jesus said “you are the light of the world”...and so the work of doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven, the work of revealing the kingdom of God among us, goes on—and Sunday’s coming.
Thanks be to God.