An hour at the cross – Worship for Good Friday

 

Around the country Anglican churches everywhere will be holding “last hour” services today between 2 and 3pm.  These are opportunities for prayer, reflection and meditation on Jesus’ love for us.
If you’d like to experience this, but are unable to get out, then you might find this helpful. This last hour is made up of the passion narrative from John’s Gospel interspersed with songs and meditations.  The meditations take the form of monologues I wrote from the perspective of different characters who played key roles in the events that unfolded that day.

Sunset

An Hour at the Cross

Opening Prayer

Eternal God, in the cross of Jesus
we see the cost of our sin
and the depth of your love:
in humble hope and fear may we place at his feet
all that we have and all that we are,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Reading:     John 18:28-40
 
 28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”
 30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”
 31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
   “But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. 32 This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.
 33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
   34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
 35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
 36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
 37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
   Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
 38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
 40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.

 

Reflection: Pontius Pilate – The blame game (1)

He really ruined my day, you know.  All was going well in Jerusalem until he came along.  I was doing my bit, keeping law and order – which isn’t easy to do with that riff-raff, especially when it’s their festival season.  I don’t know what they put in the water, but everyone seems to get rather excited.  Tempers flare up and before you know it, you have a full-blown riot on your hands – and you can’t have that.  The walls have ears you know, and any hint that you’ve lost control, Caesar is sure to find out, and then there’ll be trouble.  No, it needs a steady hand to keep the peace, you know: A man of intelligence, experience, courage; a master diplomat; a man of the people.  Someone exactly like me, in fact.

And that’s what I was doing that Friday morning: keeping the peace.  The religious authorities – who, by the way, are far too big for their boots – called on me to intervene in their affairs.  A man, Jesus, from the north, was causing them trouble. I couldn’t quite see what the fuss was all about; couldn’t they deal with the problem themselves? After all, this man was their problem, wasn’t he?  But they insisted, saying he was calling himself the King of the Jews, and that only I had the authority to execute the man.  So, I interviewed him; and quite frankly I couldn’t see any reason to charge him of any crime.  He talked about having a kingdom from another place.  He said that he came to testify to truth.  All in all, he wasn’t a threat to anyone.  So I made up my mind: I was going to release him.  No one was going to push me around.

 

Reading:     John 19:1-16 

191 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe 3 and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.
 4 Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” 5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
 6 As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”
   But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
 7 The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
 8 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, 9 and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
 12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
 13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
   “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
 15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
   “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
   “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
 16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

  

Reflection:  Pontius Pilate – The Blame Game (2)

I’m here to keep the peace, you know.  I’m very good at it, actually.  Every decision I make is in the interest of keeping the peace.  That Jesus was simply causing too much trouble.  The Jewish leaders didn’t want him around anymore.  I told him I was trying to help him, but he wasn’t at all cooperative! In fact, he said that the only reason I have any power at all is because it’s been given to me from above.  The cheek of it!  I’m a very powerful man, and what I say goes in this part of the world.  But those Jewish leaders kept on nagging and nagging; they just wouldn’t shut up.  So, I gave in and handed him over so they could do what they wanted with this man.  I only did it to keep the peace; so why can’t I find any peace myself?

I mean, I had the best of intentions. It was obvious to me that he was innocent.  I did my best to let him off. It’s not my fault he’s dead.  It’s not my fault.  All I’m trying to do is keep the peace.  To do my job.  I don’t think any one else would have done better in my position. I had the best of intentions.  It’s not my fault that it didn’t work out exactly as I’d planned, is it? If you want to blame anyone, blame the Jewish leaders – they were the ones who wanted him dead.  There would have been all-out rebellion had they not got their way.  I only backed down to keep the peace; so why can’t I find any peace myself?

 

Prayer/reflection: 

How often do we seek to justify ourselves and blame other people when things go wrong?Reflect on this with God and ask for his forgiveness.

Lord, forgive us for blaming others for things that go wrong.  Help us to take responsibility for our actions.  Forgive us, we pray, and cleanse us from our guilt.

 

 

Reading:      John 19:16-27       

    So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
 19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
 23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
 24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
   This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,
    “They divided my clothes among them
 
   and cast lots for my garment.”
   So this is what the soldiers did.
 25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Reflection:  Mary – sunshine and shadows

I watched him die.  There was nothing I could do about it.  There is nothing worse than seeing your child die in any circumstances, but the way he died made it even worse.  He’d been beaten and whipped so badly that I barely recognised him.  The agony was etched across his face. It was just so cruel. And there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.  I was helpless.  It’s a mother’s duty to look after her son, but I just stood there, powerless, as his life ebbed slowly away.

To add insult to injury, the soldiers and passers-by mocked him.  The soldiers even gambled for his clothing while he was nailed to that cross, dying.  I wanted to shout at them, to stop them, to ask them to help my son, or at least ease his suffering in some way, instead of acting as if he was there for their enjoyment.  It broke my heart.

And as he hanged there dying, flashbacks came to me of moments that I treasured throughout his life.  The moment I first held him and wrapped him in those swaddling bands to protect him from the cold, Bethlehem night; those extraordinary visitors we had when he was born; the first smile; his strange disappearance in Jerusalem; the day he first worked with Joseph in the workshop; the day he told me he was beginning his ministry of teaching and healing.  The way he spoke to me, it was clear he was saying goodbye.  He knew his message would get him into trouble with the religious and political leaders: I think he knew that they would end up killing him; but it didn’t stop him.  Nothing would stop him from carrying out God’s will.  And now his journey has ended here; his life in the hands of people who have nothing but hate in their eyes.

He could have complained.  He could have given in to self-pity or anger – and would have been perfectly within his rights to do so.  After all, he didn’t deserve what was happening to him – it was so unfair!  And yet, he was selfless, as usual, thinking of others before himself.  He looked at me, and our friend, John, and made sure that I’d be looked after.  My dear, dear, son, looking after my interests, when I should be the one looking after him.  But out of the deep, deep hurt, healing has come.  And he did often say that he would rise again on the third day.  Is it foolish to believe that this isn’t the end? Is it possible that out of the darkness, light will come? Jesus has brought hope to so many people.  Is it foolish to believe that there is still reason to hope?
Prayer/reflection:

Where has your heart been broken? Have there been times when it’s been tempting to lose hope? Where do you need God’s healing touch?
Living Lord, you bring hope out of hopelessness, light out of darkness, and healing out of hurt.  Please come in your power to minister to our brokenness and pain. Amen.

 

 

Reading:     John 19:28-42 

 28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
 31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” 37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”
 38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
Reflection:  Nicomedus – No longer afraid

 

The first time I met him face-to-face was in the middle of the night.  I’d seen him at a distance before; been there when he’d engaged in debates with the other religious leaders.  He was extraordinary.  Whenever he spoke, something burned within me.  He also performed the most incredible miracles – healing the sick, turning water into wine – that only someone inspired by God could do.   I had to come and see him.  I had to find out more about him.  The problem was that I was rather important – I had a place on the Jewish ruling council – and I didn’t want others to find out I’d met with him.  They were threatened by him, you see.  So, I came to see him in the middle of the night, so I wouldn’t lose face.

I’ll never forget that encounter.  He spoke about the need to be born again and said that we could have eternal life if we believed in him.  At first I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, it seemed so new, so confusing.  I didn’t sleep for days afterwards.  I didn’t know it at the time, but my heart was beginning to change.  I found myself sticking up for him when the Pharisees began to criticise him.  They felt threatened by what they’d heard about Jesus, so refused to allow themselves to actually listen to what he was saying.  I may have done that once, but no more.

I could scarcely believe the events of this past week.  I knew they’d got it in for him, especially after Lazarus was raised from the dead, but I didn’t really think that they would succeed in having him executed.  I was there at his trial.  I watched, helpless, in horror as they levelled groundless accusations at him and contrived to have him sentenced to death. I wish I could have spoken out, but I was frightened. They could have turned on me.  So I kept silent.  Not any more.  It’s time to step out of the shadows.  It’s time to stand up and be counted; to show that I’m not afraid any more – not afraid to be identified as his follower.  That’s why I went with Joseph of Arimathea – another one who had been afraid to speak out – to make sure Jesus got a proper burial.  It’s the least I can do for him.   And now everyone knows where my allegiance lies.  And I don’t care what they do to me.  I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that I feel like there’s new life coursing through my veins and I feel more alive than ever.  Perhaps that’s what Jesus meant when he spoke about being born again!

 

Prayer/reflection:

How prepared are we to show that we’re not afraid of following Jesus and being identified with him?
Risen Lord Jesus, forgive us for when we’ve been afraid to be known as your followers.  Please give us boldness to make Jesus known through our words and actions and to give our all to you. Amen.

 

 

 

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