Some thoughts on Good Friday
“It’s way too morbid,” a family member once said to me as their reason for not going to church on
Good Friday. Whatever our motivations and feelings about this day, virtually all of us are not going
to church this year.
If morbidity were the main thrust of our Good Friday services, it would be understandable that if
our churches were still open this year, fewer would be wanting to attend. Too much extra pain and
sufferering in ordinary life; no need for more in church.
It is true that there is an especial focus on the details of the suffering and death of Jesus on this day.
For centuries the Church has ascribed the words of the prophet Jeremiah to Christ on the Cross: O
all you who pass by, pay attention and see: if there be any sorrow like my sorrow. (Lam. 1:12). In
fact, the prophets, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, seem to dwell even more on the
Passion than those who were actually present or knew people who were! The writer of Psalm 22, for
example, has the details of the evangelists: They tear holes in my hands and feet...they divide my
clothing among them (vv 17, 19), but goes further: Like water I am poured out, disjointed are all my
bones. My heart has become like wax, it is melted within my breast (v. 15).
Jesus Himself historically welcomed this meditation and reflection on His suffering but steered its
motivation. Pausing on the road to Calvary, he tells the women of Jerusalem to weep not for me, but
for yourselves and for your children (Lk 23:28). The Lord did not tell them not to cry, not to be
moved by His suffering, but nevertheless to see the purpose of this suffering. Surely he has borne
our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted (Is.
53:4). He takes our suffering upon Himself, draws the poison out of us and into Him, in as much as
we look at Him, trust Him, dedicate ourselves to Him.
Pondering upon the Passion today is not to be morbid; neither is it hopelessly wallowing in the guilt
of our sins. It is an invitation to recall the limitless extent of God’s love for us. Love of us caused
God to rend the heavens and come down amongst us in the flesh (Is. 64:1) so that He, when lifted
up from the earth, will draw all men to Himself (Jn 12:32). Good Friday is a time to remind
ourselves that God loves us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3); He loves us to the end (Jn 13:1).
So, if the churches had been open today, I believe that more people than usual would have come.
Even in the darkness from the sixth to the ninth hour (Cf Mat. 27:45) of that first Good Friday,
when all appeared to be over, it was God, Holy and Mighty, the Holy and Immortal One (Good
Friday Reproaches/Improperia) who turned the darkness into Resurrection light. In this troubling
time our Saviour assures that we will win through, that victory will be ours. In the world you have
tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (Jn 16:33).
Maundy Thursday - 1 Corinthians 11:26-35 & John 12:1-17 & 31-35
I only have one Maundy Thursday sermon and I give it every year. It is a deeply personal sermon, a testimony in many ways, for you see Maundy Thursday is the day, or the event, that above all makes me want to be Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ. And, it is also the day that reminds me of both the enormity and simplicity of our calling - yours and mine.
It is the words that we have heard in the epistle and that are repeated in the Eucharistic Prayer that get to me: ‘On the night before he died.’ Well, we all know what happened the ‘on the night before he died.’ We all know that Jesus had ‘supper with his friends,’ and we all know what fickle friends they proved to be: one was to betray him, one was to deny him, and the others – except perhaps St John – deserted him. Jesus knew how fickle they were to be.
He knew that only the Marys and John were to make it to the very foot of the cross, and yet ‘on the night before he died, he had supper with his friends.’ On the night before he died, Jesus’ concern was to give to his friends, the apostles, the sacrament of the church. He gave them, in the face of his own agony, the means to keep going and to endure. He gave them the means of remembering him, so that we can be like him.
On the ‘night before he died’, Jesus’ only concern was to feed his friends, so that they in turn would be able to feed others, through word and deed. He gave to them the gift of a simple meal; the meal that to this day continues to feed His church. ‘On the night before he died’, Jesus also washed his apostles’ feet. Knowing what a fickle lot they would prove to be, he bathed them, cleansed them and absolved them, in advance. Jesus’ actions ‘on the night before he died’ are the epitome of ‘love so amazing, so divine’, a love which ‘demands my soul, my life, my all.’
So, let’s, this Maundy Thursday, give thanks for the friendship of Jesus, for the simple meal – the sacrament of the church – which he bequeathed to us, and commit to loving as he would have us love, for it is only through loving Jesus and loving one another that the world will know, beyond all doubt, that we are ‘his disciples.’
It is the events of the ‘night before he died’ that above all else persuade me, not only in my head, but in my very guts, that Jesus Christ truly is the Messiah,
Palm Sunday: Matthew 21, 1-11
Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday must have been an interesting place. Unlike today when most of the citizens of our cities are at home, locked down, on that Palm Sunday most of the City of Jerusalem would have been out on the streets. The closest analogy I can think of is derby day in one of our big, football mad, cities.
For you see Jesus was not the only person processing into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, for the emperor’s representative, the Governor Pontius Pilate, was also making his own procession; except it wasn’t his own for he was acting as a mere proxy for the Emperor Tiberius. Whilst Pilate was acting as the puppet of a despot, Jesus was acting under the authority of The Father into whose hands five days later he was to ‘commend’ his ‘spirit.’
Pilate’s entrance would have been through the main city gate and he would have been welcomed with insincere, coerced, praise. Jesus by contrast enters Jerusalem through a narrow gate. Pilate enters the city feted high to give them impression of power and authority. Jesus enters on a donkey, riding low. The donkey is normally thought of as symbolising humility, but it was also the animal used when the message was to be one of peace.
Pilate would have had money thrown into his path; Jesus has palm leaves placed before him. Pilate’s destination is a multi-day imperial banquet; Jesus destination, via an upstairs room, is the cross.
In comparing what we know of the Imperial procession with Jesus’ triumphant entrance what we get to see is something of the nature of the Kingdom that Jesus seeking to bring through his passion, through the majesty of the cross and the power of the resurrection.
Jesus you see isn’t interested in power for its own sake. He is interested in power solely based on what it can do for others. Jesus is all about peace and justice. Jesus isn’t concerned with building a here today gone tomorrow empire but an everlasting kingdom; a kingdom where all who are prepared to follow him and live as he would have us live have a stake and a home. The challenge of Palm Sunday is simply this: to decide whose side we are on. Are we on Jesus’ side and can we sincerely follow in his steps, or are we on the other, seemingly more powerful, side; the Kingdom side or the Imperial side?
The invitation of Palm Sunday goes a little bit further than the challenge, for having decided we are on Jesus’ side we are then invited to reflect on the nature of our discipleship. You see the tragedy of Palm Sunday is that the vast majority of those singing ‘Hosana to the Son of David,’ were nowhere to be seen just a few days later when it looked as though Jesus had lost, or in football parlance been relegated. When we survey the scene from the cross just five days later, what we see is that Jesus' first set of supporters were a fickle lot.
How resolute, committed, and focused are we in our commitment to Jesus is a question we do well to think about.
Jesus entered Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday on a donkey, the animal that symbolised humility and peace. Pilate, Tiberius’ instrument and puppet, came in feted high. Two thousand years later Jesus is still be talked about and the story of his procession still celebrated. Tiberius, by contrast, is a mere historical fact. Pilate, well he is remembered, for being an instrumental puppet in a charade of imperial power.
This Palm Sunday let us recommit to being members of team Jesus and to keep on telling the Jesus story through word and deed for the benefit not of ourselves, but of others, Amen.
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