Where did I find you, that I came to know you? You were not within my memory before I learned of you. Where, then, did I find you before I came to know you, if not within yourself, far above me? We come to you and go from you, but no place is involved in this process. In every place, O Truth, you are present to those who seek your help, and at one and the same time you answer all, though they seek your counsel on different matters.
You respond clearly, but not everyone hears clearly. All ask what they wish, but do not always hear the answer they wish. Your best servant is he who is intent not so much on hearing his petition answered, as rather on willing whatever he hears from you.
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you; now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
When once I shall be united to you with my whole being, I shall at last be free of sorrow and toil. Then my life will be alive, filled entirely with you. When you fill someone, you relieve him of his burden, but because I am not yet filled with you, I am a burden to myself. My joy when I should be weeping struggles with my Sorrow when I should be rejoicing. I know not where victory lies. Woe is me! Lord, have mercy on me! My evil sorrows and good joys are at war with one another. I know not where victory lies. Woe is me! Lord, have mercy! Woe is me! I make no effort to conceal my wounds. You are my physician, I your patient. You are merciful; I stand in need of mercy.
Is not the life of man upon earth a trial? Who would want troubles and difficulties? You command us to endure them, not to love them. No person loves what he endures, though he may love the act of enduring. For even if he is happy to endure his own burden, he would still prefer that the burden not exist. I long for prosperity in times of adversity, and I fear adversity when times are good. Yet what middle ground is there between these two extremes where the life of man would be other than trial? Pity the prosperity of this world, pity it once and again for it corrupts joy and brings the fear of adversity. Pity the adversity of this world, pity it again, then a third time; for it fills men with a longing for prosperity, and because adversity itself is hard for them to bear and can even break their endurance. Is not the life of man upon earth a trial, a continuous trial?
All my hope lies only in your great mercy.
—The Confessions of Saint Augustine, 10, 26. 37—29, 40
With all due solemnity we are commemorating that day on which our poor human nature was carried up, in Christ, above all the hosts of heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father. And so our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments. Our faith is nobler and stronger because sight has been replaced by a doctrine whose authority is accepted by believing hearts, enlightened from on high. This faith was increased by the Lord’s ascension and strengthened by the gift of the Spirit.
Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see. Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me, that the LORD brought on me in the day of his fierce anger?
—Lamentations 1.12 (NIV)
LORD, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry.
I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength. I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care.
You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily on me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief.
I call to you, LORD, every day; I spread out my hands to you. Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do their spirits rise up and praise you? Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction? Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
But I cry to you for help, LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why, LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?
From my youth I have suffered and been close to death; I have borne your terrors and am in despair. Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. You have taken from me friend and neighbor— darkness is my closest friend.
—Psalm 88 (NIV)
It is now the day after the crucifixion, and if we are to take it seriously, we must pause for a minute and reflect on what Jesus’ first disciples must have been dealing with on that day after. We cannot say for sure because Scripture is largely silent about this (but cf. John 20.19; Luke 24.13-24 for clues), but surely they would have been absolutely devastated. The most wonderful person they had ever known had been brutally and unjustly executed. The women had seen his bloodied and pierced body taken down from the cross and buried. The man his disciples had hoped was Israel’s Messiah was dead and every good Jew knew that God’s Messiah didn’t get crucified like a criminal—or so they thought.
Surely today’s texts would have reflected the utter devastation and hopelessness Jesus’ followers must have felt on that first Saturday. Like the psalmist above, surely they (like we) were asking the “why questions”—Why did this happen to Jesus? Why did God allow this to happen? Where was God in all of it? Why had he apparently abandoned not only Jesus but them as well? For you see, Jesus’ followers did not have the advantage of 20-20 hindsight we have. They were definitely not expecting Jesus to be raised from the dead because there was nothing in their Scripture that would have prepared them for what God did in Jesus that first Easter Sunday. And we fail to take Jesus’ death seriously if we gloss over all this and simply want to skip ahead to tomorrow.
But that is not how life works, is it? We typically don’t have the advantage of 20-20 hindsight as we live out our days and here is where we can learn some things about faith and hope in the midst of our own desolation as we reflect on the devastation Jesus’ followers must have felt the day after his crucifixion. Each one of us has our own hurts and sorrows and brokenness. Perhaps it stems from a job we did not get or that we lost. Perhaps a loved one got sick and died despite our prayers for healing. Perhaps we have had our families torn apart by divorce or addiction. Like Jesus’ first disciples, we too have had our expectations violated, especially now, and typically more than once. We’ve had our hopes and dreams shattered to one degree or another, and like Jesus’ first disciples, we look around and ask why. We wonder where God is in it all and why he has apparently abandoned us.
And this is precisely why Holy Saturday can be helpful to us because if we really believe in a sovereign God, Holy Saturday is a time when we must wait on him and see how he is going to act in our lives, both individually and collectively. We must put aside our limited expectations and wait and see what God is going to do in and through us. Like the psalmist in his utter desolation above, we too must cling to our hope in God and his mercy, in God and his sovereign power, and in doing so we will discover that we gain some much needed and desired patience. It is a patience tempered with humility as we wait on our Sovereign God to see what he will do to bring new life out of our own desolation, fears, and violated expectations.
We wait on this Holy Saturday even though it is not entirely possible to block out the wondrous truth that happened that first Easter. Unlike Jesus’ first disciples, we do know how the story turns out. While we didn’t expect a crucified Messiah, we have seen his dead body taken down from the cross and we have seen the empty tomb and heard the stunned and joyous testimony of the first eyewitnesses. And like his first disciples, this has violated our expectations. But we realize that God’s power and plans for us are so much better than our own. As we wait for Easter morning on this Holy Saturday, we are reminded that despite our failures, hurts, fears, and brokenness, God is a sovereign and merciful God, capable of bringing about New Creation from our desolation, and all this helps us wait on God this day with hope, real hope.
Take time to rest today, especially from the seemingly non-stop bad news of this crazy mixed-up world. Reflect deeply on these things as you learn to wait on God to act in your life and in this world to end the scourge. Remember that if God really did raise Jesus from the dead, he can surely do mind-blowing things for you and in and through you (or as a cabbie once said to Professor N.T. Wright, “If God raised Jesus from the dead, everything else is basically rock and roll, isn’t it?”), no matter who you are or what you are dealing with. As you do wait on God—and this will not happen overnight—you will also discover you are gaining the prerequisite humility and patience that you need to open yourself up fully to the Presence and Power of God’s Holy Spirit living in you. And when that happens you will have the assurance that nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.
Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.
The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his Cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: “My Lord be with you all.”
And Christ in reply says to Adam: “And with your spirit.” And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.”
“l am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.
“I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.
“For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.
“Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.
“See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.
“I slept on the Cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.
“But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.
“The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.”
A fantastic Good Friday devotional, and one I highly recommend you make part of your library.
Earlier [Jesus] had said to his disciples, “As the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected” (Luke 17:24-25). His triumph would be won, but only at greatest cost. Another time, he said to the disciples, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10.18), so we know that he had before him the vision of his victory; but it would come only through his suffering. Once, we are told, “while they were all marveling” at the wonderful things he did – the healings and exorcisms and miracles – he turned to them and said, “Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of [wicked] men” (Luke 9:44), but they could not believe it; it was completely outside anyone’s conception of the Messiah that he would be betrayed, condemned, and crucified.
Here in this final portion of our Good Friday vigil, we are trying to gain some deeper understanding of what this all means for us personally. In preparing to examine more closely the final saying, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit,” I have tried to indicate that not even Saint Luke would have us believe that this offering of Christ’s life was a gentle passage into a heavenly reward. In these meditations I have written first of John’s and now of Luke’s three sayings separately from the others so that we can see how they fit into the purposes of these two Evangelists, but in the end the Christian tradition has always combined the seven sayings into a whole. When I was in seminary, I had many wonderful professors, but in recent years there is one, a theologian, who has emerged as the most prominent in my memory. He is long dead now, but I will never forget what he meant to me. I remember in particular talking to him once about great questions of life and death, and the struggle to believe and to make sense of things. His only child, a son, had been born when he and his wife were in their forties, and then they lost him to a rare disease when he was twenty-three. Out of his great grief, this bereaved father said, “The Christian life is lived in between My God, my God, why halt thou forsaken me? and Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
There is a Tree, “mystical and eternal” which rises above the hills of time. Where its shadow falls, there God’s claim rests upon us and something is exacted of us. Those who have entered even a little way into the silence of the threefold hour [of Jesus’ crucifixion] are bound to say, “This must be saved, this particular thing, this very tree.”
—The Rev’d Dr Wheaton Phillips Webb, The Dramatic Silences of His Last Week, 52
Sometimes just as we have come to accept “the withering away of the Cross,” a silence falls…darkness,…and it strikes us how mortal we are and that before three decades have passed, or four, our very names will be unremembered and all we strive for as if it had never been.
Yes, and it is here [at the foot of the cross] where at last we find the courage to address [Jesus] with the same desperate familiarity with which a man just beyond his reach [the repentant thief who was crucified with Jesus]–yet not beyond his reach–dares to plead, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.” Remember me! For if you do not remember me, I shall go down to the dust bereft and unremembered of all.
—The Rev’d Dr Wheaton Phillips Webb, The Dramatic Silences of His Last Week, 50
The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. John.
When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples went into it. Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” “I told you that I am he,” Jesus answered. “If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound himand brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people. Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in. “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” the girl at the door asked Peter. He replied, “I am not.”
It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself. Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret.Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded. “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?”Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.
As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it, saying, “I am not.” One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.
Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 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’?” They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face. Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
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.” The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” 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.” From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
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). It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. 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. Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 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. 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.” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
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. “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 which said, “They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” So this is what the soldiers did. Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,”and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”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. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews 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. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 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. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”
Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 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. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 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. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 18:1–19:42 NIV)
This is the Passion of the Lord.
Hymn: Faithful Cross
Faithful Cross! above all other, one and only noble Tree! None in foliage, none in blossom, none in fruit thy peers may be; sweetest wood and sweetest iron! Sweetest Weight is hung on thee!
Lofty tree, bend down thy branches, to embrace thy sacred load; oh, relax the native tension of that all too rigid wood; gently, gently bear the members of thy dying King and God.
Tree, which solely wast found worthy the world’s Victim to sustain. harbor from the raging tempest! ark, that saved the world again! Tree, with sacred blood anointed of the Lamb for sinners slain.
Blessing, honor, everlasting, to the immortal Deity; to the Father, Son, and Spirit, equal praises ever be; glory through the earth and heaven to Trinity in Unity. Amen.
Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger. Holy God, holy and strong,holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.
O my people, O my Church, what have I done to you, or in what have I offended you? Testify against me. I led you forth from the land of Egypt, and delivered you by the waters of baptism, but you have prepared a cross for your Savior. Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.
I led you through the desert forty years, and fed you with manna. I brought you through tribulation and penitence, and gave you my body, the bread of heaven, but you prepared a cross for your Savior. Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.
What more could I have done for you that I have not done? I planted you, my chosen and fairest vineyard, I made you the branches of my vine; but when I was thirsty, you gave me vinegar to drink, and pierced with a spear the side of your Savior. Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.
I went before you in a pillar of cloud, and you have led me to the judgement hall of Pilate. I scourged your enemies and brought you to a land of freedom, but you have scourged, mocked and beaten me. I gave you the water of salvation from the rock, but you have given me gall and left me to thirst. Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.
I gave you a royal scepter, and bestowed the keys of the kingdom, but you have given me a crown of thorns. I raised you on high with great power, but you have hanged me on the cross. Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.
My peace I gave, which the world cannot give, and washed your feet as a sign of my love, but you draw the sword to strike in my name, and seek high places in my kingdom. I offered you my body and blood, but you scatter and deny and abandon me. Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.
I sent the Spirit of truth to guide you, and you close your hearts to the Counselor. I pray that all may be one in the Father and me, but you continue to quarrel and divide. I call you to go and bring forth fruit, but you cast lots for my clothing. Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.
I came to you as the least of your brothers and sisters; I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.
O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, set your passion, cross and death between your judgement and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Grant mercy and grace to the living, rest to the departed, to your Church peace and concord and to us sinners forgiveness, and everlasting life and glory; for, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, you are alive and reign, God, now and for ever. Amen.
The changing of water to wine was, as he told us clearly, the first in the sequence of ‘signs’ by which Jesus revealed his glory. The second was the healing of the nobleman’s son at Capernaum (4:46–54). From then on he leaves us to count up the ‘signs’, and different readers have reckoned them differently. I think the most convincing sequence goes like this. The third ‘sign’ is the healing of the paralysed man at the pool (5:1–9). The fourth is the multiplication of loaves and fishes (6:1–14). The fifth is the healing of the man born blind (9:1–12). And the sixth is the raising of Lazarus (11:1–44).
John cannot have intended the sequence to stop at six. With Genesis 1 in the back of his mind from the very start, the sequence of seven signs, completing the accomplishment of the new creation, has an inevitability about it. Now here we are, at the foot of the cross. John has told us throughout his gospel that when Jesus is ‘lifted up’, this will be the moment of God’s glory shining through him in full strength. And the ‘signs’ are the things that reveal God’s glory. I regard it as more or less certain that he intends the crucifixion itself to function as the seventh ‘sign’.
As though to confirm this, Jesus gives one last cry. ‘It’s finished!’ ‘It’s all done!’ ‘It’s complete!’ He has finished the work that the father had given him to do (17:4). He has loved ‘to the very end’ his own who were in the world (13:1). He has accomplished the full and final task.
The word that I’ve translated ‘It’s all done!’ is actually a single word in the original language. It’s the word that people would write on a bill after it had been paid. The bill is dealt with. It’s finished. The price has been paid. Yes, says John: and Jesus’ work is now complete, in that sense as in every other. It is upon this finished, complete work that his people from that day to this can stake their lives [emphasis mine]. (pp. 131-32)
One of the most moving moments at the Lambeth Conference in 2008 came when Sir Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, gave a splendid and stirring lecture. Many of us, who had only heard him on the radio before, hadn’t realized that he can not only do a brilliant three-minute ‘thought for the day’ but also a magisterial and moving full-scale address—part lecture, part sermon, part testimony.
In the question time that followed, one question in particular made everyone pause and hush. ‘Tell us about Jesus.’ What would he, a leading Jew, say about the one we call ‘Messiah’?
Sir Jonathan went straight for this passage, and for verse 34, at the heart of Luke’s story of the crucifixion. ‘Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.’ At that point, he said, Jesus was echoing what the high priest says on the Day of Atonement, interceding to God for muddled and sinful Israel. Jesus, said the Chief Rabbi, was never more thoroughly Jewish than at that moment, praying for those around, praying for forgiveness, pleading the ignorance of the people as the particular reason.
As we stand back from the story, we remind ourselves that this last phase of the whole gospel had begun with Jesus coming to Jerusalem and solemnly declaring God’s judgment on the Temple and its whole system. That had led to his trial before the high priest of the day, and then to Pilate and to condemnation. Jesus really does seem to have believed that it was part of his role to take into himself the task of Temple and Priest together. He would be the place where, and the means by which, God would meet with his people in grace and forgiveness.
But if Jesus on the cross is the true Priest, Luke insists that he is also the true king. This, he says, is what it looks like when God’s kingdom comes! ‘This is the king of the Jews’! Of course, it doesn’t look like that. It looks as though he’s a failed Messiah. The sneering challenge, ‘If you’re the king of the Jews’, goes back to the demonic challenge in the desert: ‘If you’re the son of God …’
And the point is that this moment, this bloody and dark moment, this miscarriage of justice, this terrible suffering, this offering by Jesus of his full self to the will of God—this is how God is dealing, in sovereign, rescuing love, with the weight of the world’s evil and pain, and with death itself. Jesus is the green tree, the wood that wasn’t ready for burning, dying in the place of the dry trees, the people all around who were eager to bring in the kingdom in their own way rather than God’s way.
So we draw all our prayers together in daring to echo that strange request made by one of the brigands alongside him: ‘Jesus—remember me when you finally become king.’ That’s often as much as we dare say.
But Jesus surprises us, as he surprised the brigand, by his response. He is becoming king, here and now. No more waiting.
‘Today.’ In the brigand’s case: paradise now, and resurrection still to come. In our case: forgiveness, healing and hope, here and now. And the call to serve, and to give ourselves, as he gave himself for us.
Almighty Father, look with mercy on this your family for which our Lord Jesus Christ was content to be betrayed and given up into the hands of sinners and to suffer death upon the cross; who is alive and glorified with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Here is an exquisite devotional piece on Jesus as he prayed in Gethsemane. See what you think (and pick up the book).
Read Mark 14.32-52
Two generations ago, J. B. Phillips (best known for his translation of the New Testament) published a little book called Your God Is Too Small. It was a moving appeal for ordinary Christians to lift up their eyes and imaginations, and to realize that God is not simply a therapist, concerned with the humdrum, day-to-day matters of their personal lives and problems, but is the glorious sovereign of heaven and earth. We all need that kind of reminder on a regular basis.
But there is, perhaps, a more subtle point which needs to be made as well. When people start to get the point about the sovereignty, majesty and glory of the one true God, it is often difficult for them at the same time to glimpse and grasp the real divine greatness which the gospel stories reveal. But if we don’t get this point, as well as the larger one, we will fall back once more into the mistake of James and John, celebrating the greatness of God and hoping that some of that greatness will rub off on us in the usual, worldly sense.
All along in Mark’s book we have seen that Jesus is described as the one who, however surprisingly, is fulfilling the promises that Israel’s God will come back to his people at last, rescuing them and filling the world with his glory. Think back to the opening scene. Here is the preparatory messenger, here is the voice in the wilderness, and now here is the Coming One: my son, my beloved one, the one who makes me glad. Somehow, already, we have to get our heads around what Mark is saying: God promised that he would come back, but the one who’s come is Jesus, and Jesus is hailed by God himself as his beloved son.
Mark offers no theory about how this makes sense. The earliest Christians didn’t theorize: they worshipped. They remained firmly monotheistic: Jesus wasn’t a ‘second god’ added to the one they’d already got. But, somehow, they found that worshipping Jesus and worshipping the one whom Jesus called ‘father’ went together.
We might, as I say, just about be getting our heads and our hearts around this. But the scene we now witness strains this picture in a new way. It offers a whole new dimension of the word ‘God’ itself. Gethsemane stands at the heart of the whole early Christian picture of who God is, and hence of who we ourselves (bearing God’s image) are meant to be. And at the heart of Gethsemane there stands the unforgettable prayer that shows what love really means, the love that passes between father and son, the love that reaches out to this day into the dark places of the world: ‘Abba, father,’ he said, ‘all things are possible for you! Take this cup away from me! But—not what I want, but what you want.’
Not long ago, I heard a church leader declare that with this passage we actually see ‘conflict’ within the Trinity itself. (He was using this idea to justify continuing conflict within the church.) But Gethsemane is not about conflict. It is about love. This is the full, honest interchange of love in which the son lays before the father the true condition of his God-reflecting humanity, caught now in the necessary work of bearing the utter pain and sorrow of the world.
But, people might say, doesn’t this prayer show that Jesus and his father are, as it were, on opposite sides of the equation? Doesn’t it appear that Jesus wants to be released from his obligation, but knows that the father wills it anyway?
Not so fast. What Jesus’ prayer shows is the proper, right, natural reaction of any human being, and particularly the human being who completely reflected the life-giving God, to the dark forces of corruption and death. It shows that as Jesus went to the cross he was not doing it out of a distorted death-wish, a kind of crazy suicide mission. He continued, as one would expect from the life-restoring son of the life-giving father, to resist death with every fibre of his being. His very prayer to be rescued from it displays not a resistance to the father’s will, but a resistance to the forces of evil which result in death. There is no conflict here; only the deepest affirmation of the father’s will in all its aspects.
And now we ask again: is your God this big? Big enough to come and take on the forces of evil and death by dying under their weight and power? There’s a hymn which has a verse beginning, ‘Jesus is Lord! Yet from his throne eternal, in flesh he came to die in shame on Calvary’s tree.’ There is one word there that is wrong. It shouldn’t be ‘yet’. It should be ‘so’. Jesus is Lord, and so, and therefore, he came into the world, came to his own people, came to the place of fear and horror and shame and guilt and evil and darkness and death itself. He came out of love, love for the father, love for the world. That is what Mark’s story is telling us. All the theologians down the centuries have produced formulae to explain this. But it’s all here, in a nutshell, within this astonishing story.
And of course the disciples didn’t get it. First they fall asleep. Then they make a half-baked attempt to defend Jesus. And then—many people think this is Mark’s own signature, a shocking and shaming personal memory—one young man is grabbed by the tunic, so leaves the tunic and runs away naked. That says it all. Humankind, naked and ashamed in the garden, while the snake closes in for the kill. The son of man has arrived at the place where the problem began, to take its full force upon himself.
Today Lord Jesus, King and Master, help us to watch with you, to stay with you, to learn from your anguish the lessons of love.
There was much proclaimed by the prophets about the mystery of the Passover. That mystery is Christ, and to him be glory for ever and ever.
For the sake of suffering humanity he came down from heaven to earth, clothed himself in that humanity in the Virgin’s womb, and was born as one of us. Having then a body capable of suffering, he took the pain of fallen humanity upon himself; he triumphed over the diseases of soul and body that were its cause, and by his Spirit, which was incapable of dying, he dealt our destroyer, Death, a fatal blow.
He was led forth like a lamb; he was slaughtered like a sheep. He ransomed us from our servitude to the world, as he had ransomed Israel from the hand of Egypt; he freed us from our slavery to the devil, as he had freed Israel from the hand of Pharaoh. He sealed our souls with his own Spirit, and the members of our body with his own blood.
He is the One who covered death with shame and cast the devil into mourning, as Moses cast Pharaoh into mourning. He is the One who smote sin and robbed iniquity of offspring, as Moses robbed the Egyptians of their offspring. He is the One who brought us out of slavery into freedom, out of darkness into light, out of death into life, out of tyranny into an eternal kingdom; who made us a new priesthood, a people chosen to be his own forever. He is the Passover that is our salvation.
It is he who endured ever kind of suffering in all those who foreshadowed him. In Abel he was slain, in Isaac bound, in Jacob exiled, in Joseph sold, in Moses exposed to die. He was sacrificed in the Passover lamb, persecuted in David, dishonored in the prophets.
He is the One who rose from the dead, and who raised us from the depths of the tomb.
—Melito, Bishop of Sardis, (d. ca 190), Easter Homily 65-71.