Last Hour at the Cross – A Service for Good Friday

Based on the Passion readings from John’s Gospel

Reading:        John 18:28-40           

Reflection:    Pontius Pilate – Playing the blame game (Part 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

Reflection:    Pontius Pilate (Part 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?

Reading:        John 19:16-27

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?

Reading:        John 19:28-42

Reflection:    Nicodemus – 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!

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