Isaiah 52:13-53.12 – John 19:17-42
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit Amen
We cannot gather together in person around the cross today as would be our custom for this Good Friday. Instead we gather as a virtual community. If you have a cross of some sort, it may help to have it in front of us as we reflect on Jesus love for us and the love God has for us – which unites us spiritually as his witnesses on our earth today, even if we cannot be together physically
So as spiritual witnesses let’s look again with eyes wide open and hearts on fire with God’s love at four characters, four witnesses at the original events as described in the gospel of John.
In some instances these are people whose names we know, in others people representing a specific viewpoint or establishment, who were there at the place of the skull and looked on as Jesus was crucified and died.
Our first witness is one of the high priests, arguing over what the sign about Jesus should say. One who has mocked and scorned Jesus. One who wanted him out of the way at any price, and fast before the sabbath set in. One who viewed Jesus as dangerous to the current order of things. Jesus threatened the power and influence that this man had. In the high priest’s heart are a variety of feelings, bitterness and hatred, alongside some significant relief that Jesus was being dealt with. This man thought that Jesus had got what he deserved! He would have been satisfied even pleased with the outcome. The high priest’s views are pretty painful to our ears.
Our second witness is one of the soldiers, representing the Roman occupying force, doing Pilate’s bidding. He was there doing his job, supervising the executions. This activity was matter of fact to him, part of his day to day life. He had probably trodden this path many times before. In John’s gospel the soldiers are gambling over Jesus possessions. Then at the end making sure Jesus is dead, piercing his side but not breaking any bones. In this account we don’t get the centurion’s remark – Truly this man was God’s Son but we remember it from Mark and Matthews’ account. That makes us wonder what it was in the last breath of Jesus that this soldier saw? What was it that opened his eyes and moved his heart, to proclaim that Jesus was God’s son. He proclaimed this against all the odds (and in significant danger to his livelihood and survival)
Our third witness is Mary Jesus’ mother standing nearby to the cross supported by Mary Magdalene along with the beloved disciple. We can only imagine her heart breaking at the sight of her son at this point. Yet we admire her determination in being there, seeing it through and showing her love for Jesus through her presence. We feel her confusion, her grief, her sorrow, and as witnesses that also love Jesus we can touch on Mary’s pain. This is probably only the tip of the iceberg of how it was for her. In her pain we also feel echoes today of those unable to be with dying loved ones in hospital in our current circumstances.
Jesus’ compassion to the very end of his earthly life is concerned with Mary’s welfare from the cross. Making sure she is cared for and cherished after his death by his closest disciple. This is so typical of his heart, and his love for others. Even from the depths of his own anguish he is reaching out to those in need. Jesus’ compassion is also there for those who are dying and those who can’t be there in our current circumstances by his saving love for us.
Our fourth witness is Joseph of Arimathea. We cannot be sure he was there at the crucifixion in a way. But if he hadn’t been near how could he have known when to go to Pilate to ask for the body when he did. Even if he wasn’t there as Jesus died, he certainly was with Nicodemus and took loving care of Jesus’ body, not everyone’s calling to this day. Joseph had kept his faith in Jesus secret, because he was frightened by the religious authorities (and what that would mean for him). We can’t be entirely clear on Joseph’s part in the story, recent dramatizations (like the BBC1 in 2008) have seen Joseph clearly wanting no part in getting rid of Jesus, but he was not openly supportive either. John’s gospel describes him as a secret disciple of Jesus, participating in laying Jesus body to rest was going to throw the spotlight onto him and reveal this secret. Did he feel he had done to little, to late to support Jesus? Did he feel now in this the darkest hour he needed to stand up to be counted?
We have heard the story of these four different witnesses A High Priest, A Soldier, Mary and Joseph of Arimathea. Each had a different perspective on the events of the First Good Friday. As Christian disciples united in our love of Jesus, what can we learn and apply to our Christian witness from them – What these people standing before us witnessed at the crucifixion and in Jesus death and how they witnessed it
What can we learn from the High Priest’s perspective? – The high priests were the face of religion of his day and his perspective challenges us to look at our use and abuse of power. Speaks to us in our acts of hypocrisy – when our words and our deeds don’t match up.
Jesus love for the High Priest and for us shown through his cross speaks to our hearts – Asks us to be aware that what we do for God should not be tainted by our own self-interest. We need to live lives worthy of Jesus. Jesus love asks us to use any power we have responsibly and to show his love and compassion for those around us. People looking at us should know we are Christians by our love and by our capacity to show God’s love for others.
What can we learn from the soldier’s perspective? – For the soldiers undertaking executions was part of their day to day job, and yet in Mark’s and Matthew’s gospel we hear that what one soldier saw in Jesus’ death, was enough for him to believe passionately.
Jesus love for the soldier and for us shown through his cross speaks to our hearts – About how unexpected and surprising God’s love for us and those around us can be. How God can speak to us through our circumstances, this very day in the events we witness, through those we speak to and our words to others even in the most routine, day to day task in our lockdown circumstances. Let’s remember to ‘tune in’ to the mystery and wonder of God’s love for us and be open to the many ways in which God guides us. This allows ourselves to be channels of that mystery and wonder to others as the spirit guides us.
What we can learn from Mary’s perspective? – Mary looked on as her son, her beloved son died.
Jesus love for Mary and for us shown through his cross speaks to our hearts – About the challenge we all face in those times when the going gets tough. It couldn’t have been much tougher than it was for Mary on this day. Mary loved Jesus with all she had and put her love for him first as any mother does. We are called in our witness as Christians today to put our love of Jesus first in our lives too no matter how tough it gets and it doesn’t get much tougher than Mary’s experience. We need to put our love of Jesus first based on the hope Jesus has set before us and the love that Jesus has for us shown through his cross. We also need to pray for and support those not able to be with ill and dying loved ones, knowing Jesus’ love for them and compassion for them too.
What we can learn from Joseph of Arimathea’s perspective? – Joseph looked on and knew as an influential figure in jewish society, he should move to give Jesus dignity in death, and enable his body to be buried according to their custom.
Jesus love for Joseph and for us shown through his cross speaks to our hearts – About the need not to keep our faith secret. Joseph sacrificed the anonymity and secrecy of his faith that day. Christianity is not a faith to be hid or locked away. We are called in our witness as Christians today to share our love of Jesus with others. This should be as natural to us as breathing – Jesus through his love shown in the cross has saved us and that is the best news we have ever had.
These four different witnesses speak to us as the available Christian witnesses – separated by social distancing today but together in Jesus love for us. They speak of the need for us to
Use power responsibly and live lives worthy of our calling.
Be open to the breathtaking and surprising work of the spirit.
To have our love of Jesus at the centre of our being no matter how tough it gets.
And to take our part in sharing the good news of Jesus love for us with others, which has saved us.
These witnesses to events of the first good Friday reminded us of all what we have and share in our love of God and of Jesus Christ his son. These reflections reminded me of the powerful words of the prayer of St Teresa of Avila. This prayer in its simple and powerful words, shows the love of Jesus we have been remembering and have been experiencing through the cross. It also reminds us of our calling as witnesses united together in our love of Jesus this day
Let us pray
Christ has no body on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours; ours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out; ours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and ours are the hands with which He is to bless us now. Amen
Copyright acknowledgements New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995