Love the Living – Good Friday 2019

John 18:28-19:42

Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?”

They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.”

Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.) Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him.

But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit. Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face.

Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.”

The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.” Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?”

Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.”

Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.

Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.'” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top.  So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed.

Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.”

And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.” After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.

They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Sermon Text

Christ died on the cross for our sins this day. The righteous victim of our crimes, a pure sacrifice offered up for sins he did not commit. Death entered the person of God for the first time today. Never had God known pain like this, known what it was to feel cold as blood drained from his body, known what it was to sink into darkness, to draw one final breath and then, suddenly, cease.

What is striking in the account that John gives of Christ’s sacrifice is that no one advocated for Christ on the day that he died except for Pilate, and even then only half-heartedly. The powerful Roman, the vicious and violent Governor, was the only one to acknowledge that Christ was being killed for no reason other than out of fear and jealousy. Time and time again he questions Christ, and time and time again Jesus tells him he is sent to begin something beyond this world, to testify to the truth, proving his innocence time and time again.

Yet despite all this, Pilate acts as expected and capitulates to the vengeance of the Temple elites. He turns Jesus over to be crucified and washes his hands of any guilt. Not to be completely silenced, Pilate places a plaque above Jesus’ head – “Here is Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The temple leaders are furious at this, “He only claimed to be a king! Do not give him a title he does not deserve.” Yet, Pilate insists he will not change it.

This does two things – on one level Pilate is getting back at the leaders who forced his hand. A way of saying, “You win in this, but I will not let you win completely.” On the other, Pilate is giving Christ the due recognition he deserves. This is the Christ, this is the King of the Jews, but Pilate only gave him his proper title when he was dying on the cross. An act that, from an earthly view, is far too little far too late.

Likewise, we are told that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus chipped in to let Jesus be buried and embalmed properly. One gave the tomb and the other the necessary spices. Again, in earthly terms – too little, too late. Where were these men at the Sanhedrin, why do we not hear them rising up to defend Jesus during his trial? We can only assume that these two were standing there in the trial, silent as the defamation of Jesus’ character played out. The events leading up to the crucifixion and those that followed were significant in that on either side we see the people of God failing to show up for Christ.

Today, we look back and know that the death of Christ was not the final victory of death but death’s final action. This was not so to those who chose to let Christ die alone and without an advocate. Even for us today, we are left with a choice. Either we stand up for the Christ that is present among us – the poor and needy in all places – or we stand with our own comfort and our own power. Pilate feared an uprising, and so let Jesus die. Do we feel we will be disenfranchised, and so let the powerful kill the oppressed? Joseph and Nicodemus likely feared being ostracized or chased out of the assembly. Do we worry we will be excluded if we radically love those who are not accepted by others?

This is the day that changed history. Christ, in Christ’s sacrifice, washes us clean of our sin and allows us to be the Church. However, it is also a constant reminder of what God looks like to us in the day to day. God is not clean, God is not respectable. God is the dirty vagrant you cast out from public places, God is the dope peddler you sneered at, God is the homeless trans woman you called a freak. God’s place is among the oppressed because Christ died for us, sinners that we are, alone, without an advocate, and as a punching bag for the powerful.

Today we remember the act of God that set us free, but let us not view this liberation as something which God worked only so that we can die and go up to Heaven. No, instead let us see Christ as freeing us from the constraints of a broken world, and showing us what really matters. Not power, not acclaim, not even a good reputation – but loving the least of these even if it means we lose all that we care about. The call of the Church is a call to come and die, and at Calvary, Christ sets the perfect example of what this means.

Christ is crucified until the kingdom is inaugurated in final victory. Crucified in everyone who suffers, in every evil that is committed. The eternal sacrifice of God for our sins is played out in every interaction we have, let us advocate for those who bear the image of Christ while they live. Let us give into the temptation to see their death as tragic, as unavoidable, as anything but our fault.

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