Meditation and Reflection

Good Friday: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit"

 

Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him.
And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe,
And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands.
Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him.
Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!
When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him.
The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.
When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid;
And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer.
Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?
Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.
And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.
When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha.
And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!
But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.
Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.
And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha:
Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.
And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.
This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.
Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews.
Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.
Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout.
They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did.
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.
When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!
Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.
Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth.
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.
The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him.
But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:
But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.
And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.
For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.
And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced.
And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.
And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.
Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.
Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.
There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand
(Jn 19).

For Mark, Jesus is the Son of God; for Matthew, He is King; for Luke, He is Saviour. But for John, Jesus is the spotless Lamb of God who was ritually bled so that no drop of blood remained in him. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, who was with Him at the creation of the world, to die the agonising death of a cursed criminal. The cross that killed the Son of God blotted out our every sin: that which was torture for Him was a sweet gift to us – the path to eternal life.

The day of Christ’s crucifixion coincides this year with the Jewish commemoration of the Passover, just as it did in AD33. As Christians meditate upon the Lamb of God who was led to the slaughter, Jews recall the time the Israelites escaped slavery in Egypt by marking their doorposts with the blood of a pure lamb so that the Spirit of the Lord might pass over their homes in the slaughter of the first-born. The Lamb hangs on His cross, nailed there by our selfishness, our pride, our fits of anger, our lies, jealousy, greed and intolerance. We drove those nails into His feet and hands. Yet even in His deepest agony, He was forgiving us.

Jesus died the death of Israel’s Messiah at the hands of the Romans, at the request of the Sanhedrin, by the will of the people. He was crucified by Pontius Pilate, but it was a democratic crucifixion; a referendum on Christ’s prophethood and messianic claim. And Jesus lost: the people elected Barabbas as their saviour.

There were no signs and wonders; no apparent divine intervention; no empiric liberation. The death of Christ brought His disciples to the very depths of despair: they were abandoned, mocked and disillusioned. One had betrayed; another was afraid; and yet another doubted. The rest possessed within their hearts the peace which passes all understanding: an assurance; a hope that their time of testing might pass and that the curse of death might be conquered. They did not know; they believed. And the message they believed has been central to the Christian faith for almost 2000 years. It is one that has to be continually reinforced at times of stress, despair and danger; at moments when faith is tested and the will to overcome is undermined.

This is why Good Friday is so central in its symbolism. The descent of darkness, the portents of destruction, the expiry of vision and hope. It is the Good Friday that comes to every person at different times, when failure robs life of all meaning, joy and love. It is the collapse of enterprise, confidence, relationship and dignity. It is both the torment of a child abandoned by a father, and a father’s grief at the loss of a child. It is the descent into hell. God-forsakenness is something we might all feel, but, unlike Jesus, we never actually experience it. At His moment of mortality, He was nothing but an outcast and humiliated slave. When our moment comes, we are sanctified in His Shekinah and our fellowship will be consummate.

Christians endure what Josephus referred to as “that most wretched of deaths” on Good Friday because of the sure and certain eschatological hope of the Resurrection, which sustains us through the despair. This life does not promise the joy and ecstasy of the Easter event: that is for another place. All we can expect on earth is to be persecuted for the sake of righteousness: the world will hate us, but it hated Him first.

Today is a time to reflect, remember, re-enact how our sin brought Jesus to his death on Calvary, and what that death meant for our sinfulness and redemption. The gospels present the death of Jesus in the light of His life and the good news He preached. God delivered up His Son – surrendered Him – quite deliberately: the first person of the Trinity cast out and annihilated the second in order that we might be redeemed. In the infinite grief of that kenosis is perfect love. How can we not be grateful? Love so amazing, so divine, demands our souls, our lives, our all.