Dearly Beloved in Christ
Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit as we come together from our various Christian Communities to remember the events Good Friday. I’d like to begin my reflection today by quoting an ancient reflection typically read on Holy Saturday. I think it’s just as applicable today as it is tomorrow.
“Something strange is happening--- there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and He has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh, and hell trembles with fear.”
The Gospel of John’s account of the death of our Lord offers some incredibly beautiful insights for us to reflect upon in this Good Friday celebration. Despite the fact that Pilate believes he is in control, it becomes clear that he is not. The question that comes to mind as he is trying to decide how to treat Jesus is who is in charge? Is it God? Is It Caesar? Is it the devil? At different points throughout John 19, it seems like any one of these three are in fact in charge. When Pilate indicates that he is willing to release Jesus, the Jewish leaders proclaim fidelity to Caesar. Indeed, it seems that Pilate most fears that, by releasing Jesus, he may be releasing a competitor for his bosses’ job. Jesus focuses him back where he belongs and reminds him, “You would have no power over me at all if it had not been given you from above; that is why the man who handed me over to you has the greater guilt.” In some ways, Jesus is expunging Pilate of the guilt of passing sentence by saying that there is one who has committed a worse sin by handing him over to be crucified. Who is Jesus condemning here? Who handed him over? Judas merely handed him over to the Jews, who have not authority to crucify. He had no idea what his actions did. Plus, he has already gone to his death and is at the mercy of the Father. Some have suggested that this a reference to the High Priest, Caiaphas. I’d like to suggest that there is something deeper happening here.
In trying to decide what to do with Jesus’ clothes, there is one garment that is left undivided. This was done, as John the Evangelist said, to fulfill sacred scripture, Psalm 22, “Many dogs surround me; a pack of evildoers closes in on me. So wasted are my hands and feet that I can count all my bones. They stare at me and gloat; they divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots.” Yet, John the Evangelist sees in this action a symbolism for the need for Christians to be united. That’s why it is so fitting that we would gather together on Good Friday to remember the death of Our Lord and to pray for greater unity among all Christians, that we may be one as Father, Son, and Spirit are One. From now on, Jesus will seek to make sure that there is greater unity among the people all the way until he breathes his last. From the cross, he makes sure that his elderly mother is cared for by his apostle, John.
At the end, he breathes a phrase that could sound, in most Bibles, like utter frustration, “It is finished.” Jesus has suffered enough. He is ready to stop fulfilling prophecy, to stop fighting, and give up his Spirit. It sounds like a cancer patient who has fought bravely against the illness giving into the inevitable. Jesus can do no more so it’s time to stop fighting.
If we were to believe that, we couldn’t be more wrong. Jesus isn’t, in frustration, throwing up his hands. He is saying that everything is in place now, everything is complete, everything has been fulfilled. In this statement, we finally get an answer as to who is really in charge and who is really the one who handed him over. The devil, in hell, thought he had pulled off the perfect coup, as he had done in the garden. Just as he had convinced Adam and Eve to commit the first sin, to clothe themselves with garments of shame, and to be thrown out the garden, so he now thinks that he has clothed the king of Glory in the shame of death on the cross, with the mocking clothes of a King on his body. Yet, now all is set for the conquering of death in the resurrection, the folly of the garden overcome by the glorious death of the cross. It is finished, it is fulfilled…and hell trembles in fear.