March 30, 2018, Good Friday, Three Meditations on the Passion – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here (it starts after about 30 seconds of organization): Z0000073
The Passion – readings and meditations
The arrest and betrayal —John 18:1-27
Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.
Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.
Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.
The cohort of Roman soldiers with an officer at their head, and the trained police of the Jewish Temple, all those armed forces, marched away from the garden with their bound captive, who had come quietly forward, of his own accord, and offered himself up to them. Under cover of night, they took Jesus to the High Priest, where the Jewish leaders had quietly convened a trial of sorts, anxious to avoid any outcry that the people might raise at the arrest of this supposed prophet. So it was that the chosen people of Yahweh conspired to kill their own God.
But at the same time, out in the courtyard, a smaller, quieter betrayal was unfolding. Peter, the front man of Jesus’ disciples, Peter the Bold, who had vowed his absolute allegiance, swearing up and down that even if it meant facing death, he would never desert Jesus (and, made bold by their brave friend, all the others declared the same.) But outside, in the courtyard of the High Priest, among the wavering shadows of the charcoal fire, fear began to eat away at Peter’s courage. The woman who guarded the gate had looked at him with suspicion when he entered the courtyard. “You aren’t one of his disciples, are you?” she asked him. Peter just shook his head and shuffled past, avoiding eye-contact. But a moment later, one of the others huddled around the fire – it was a cold night – said to Peter, “I’d know that Galilean accent anywhere. You’re one of his men, aren’t you?” In his terror, Peter cursed, and vehemently denied it. But again, one of the servants who had been in the garden when Jesus was arrested, pointed at Peter. “I saw you with him, I know I did. In the garden.” Trembling now, Peter blurted out in his panic. “I tell you, I don’t even know the man.”
The darkness had been growing less black, little by little, in the eastern sky, as they all stood in the courtyard waiting, wondering, listening, until suddenly, a sound pierced the chill air: the crowing of a rooster announcing the coming of dawn.
And finally the last shreds of Peter’s self-assurance and boldness came crashing down at the sound of the rooster’s crow. He had failed. He had failed his Teacher and good friend. He had failed his God. He had failed himself.
How many times have we stood in Peter’s place, struck dumb at our own weakness, ashamed and disgusted by our faithlessness and disloyalty, crushed by the enormity of our betrayal?
The trial – John 18:28-19:16
Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”
Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”
When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
Because the nation of Israel had been occupied by the forces of the Roman Empire, Caiaphas, the High Priest, and his father-in-law, Annas, were forced to collaborate with their enemy to make an end of this rabble-rousing Galilean preacher. Even though they had been in full agreement in holding their midnight court and condemning Jesus with their trumped-up charges and questionable witnesses; even though they had the support of the Sanhedrin and all the Jewish leaders; they still lacked the power to do what they had set out to do. Because only Rome held the authority to condemn a man to death.
So they took Jesus to the Governor’s Palace, and handed him over to Pilate. And here they faced a tricky problem. Remember that this all happened at the Jewish Feast of the Passover. If they brought Jesus into the Palace they would be entering into the home of a Gentile, and they would become ritually unclean. If they became ritually unclean, they would be banned from eating the Passover with their fellow Jews. And so, to remain pure, they stood at the door and betrayed Jesus from a polite distance, demanding his blood at the hands of their own oppressors.
From the long, comfortable distance of history, we are struck dumb at the blindness and hypocrisy of these men, who took such care not to be defiled by contact with Gentiles, while, at the very same time, they were conspiring to betray and murder the Son of God. It is an easy thing for us to condemn the condemners.
But have we ever taken comfort and pride in following the path of propriety and respectability, while all the while our own hands are stained with the blood of those we failed to love or protect, those on whom we failed to have compassion, those we failed to take the time to notice? We think now of the words of Jesus, who said to us, “Inasmuch as you did not do these things – inasmuch as you did not feed the hungry or clothe the naked, inasmuch as you did not visit the lonely or sick or prisoners – inasmuch as you did not speak up for the oppressed – inasmuch as you did not do these things for one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did not do them for me?”
Have we ever kept ourselves clean and pure, but turned our backs on Jesus in his suffering?
The crucifixion and burial – John 19:17-42
So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.'” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says,
“They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”
And that is what the soldiers did.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”
After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
Except for Jesus, there are no heroes in the story, only people like us. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a man of some importance, had visited Jesus secretly, under cover of darkness, when he wanted to talk to him. Joseph, a member of the council, had apparently been the lone dissenting voice in the mock trial where Jesus had been condemned. But when all was said and done, not even these influential men did anything to stop the injustice that was unfolding. Maybe there was simply nothing they could have done.
And then there was that quiet little group who stood by the cross, though there was nothing they could do to stop the soldiers, nothing they could do to ease his terrible suffering, nothing they could say to make sense of the horror of that day. Just three women – Jesus’ own mother and her sister, their good friend Mary Magdalene, and with the women, John, the youngest disciple, and the only one of Jesus close companions who didn’t run away on that day.
But when all was over, when the bloodthirsty chanting of the fickle mob had died away, when the labored breathing of the dying men had gone quiet, when all the tears that could be wept were finally spent, the three women and the young disciple stayed beside the body of Jesus until they were forced to head home in the last light of the setting sun, before the Sabbath began. Joseph and Nicodemus did what little they still could do in service to the one they had quietly, if not courageously, come to put their faith in.
In the end, all any of them had to offer Jesus was their love.
And that, after all, was the one command that Jesus had given to all of them before he left them: to persevere in love, for God, and for one another. We are not the heroes we sometimes imagine ourselves to be. But it is always in our power to love. In the darkest of times, on that terrible night of our Lord’s death, in the dark moments of history when evil seems to have had the victory at last, in the dark times of our own lives when it is very hard to believe that light and life will ever return, then the love of Christ still abides in us, even in the smallest of kindnesses, even in the sharing of a tomb.