Live In Faith So We Will See Him Again: Good Friday (second service)

Live In Faith So We Will See Him Again: Good Friday (second service)

Year C, Good Friday (second service
April 15, 2022

Year C: Isaiah 52:13-53:12;  Psalm 22:1-11; Hebrews 10:1-25; John 18:1-40

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Today we have heard some of the most beautiful, painful, heart-wrenching passages of Scripture juxtaposed with one of the holiest, most beautiful, sad, heart-wrenching moments of the Christian story. Jesus, our beloved healer, the man who washed the feet of his friends, has been betrayed by one of those same friends. He has been misunderstood and accused by the leaders of his own people. He heard the shouts of “Crucify him! Crucify him!” when the crowd had the chance to set him free. Maybe some of those people had been among the crowds listening to Jesus preach and been changed by the encounter. Even Peter denies that he knows him. Three times! How complicated are those who love him and those who condemn him!

The suffering servant passage from Isaiah, which we heard today, describes a humble, indigenous servant who was both astonishing and rejected by those around him and “by a perversion of justice… taken away.” To us, as Christians, this sounds like the tragedy of Jesus’ betrayal, suffering, and death. Some understand this passage as an explicit prophecy of Christ’s suffering and death for Christians. For them, Isaiah 53 is proof that Christianity was predicted by the Hebrew prophet centuries before Jesus’ birth.

But how was the suffering servant understood by the Jews of Jesus’ time, indeed by Jesus himself? Rabbinic interpretation identifies the suffering servant in Isaiah 52-53 as a personification of the nation of Israel, which had repeatedly suffered at the hands of Gentile oppressors. According to the rabbinic interpretation, the speakers of the Isaiah passage are the startled kings of the surrounding nations: “Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” These kings humbly admit that righteous people have suffered at their hands in the messianic age in which the passage is set. At last, the Jewish people will be rewarded for their faith and will return from exile.

At the time when Jesus lived, Judaism was a diverse religion. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were influential factions with differing beliefs and practices. Other first-century Jewish factions included the Essenes, the Zealots, the Jews of the Diaspora who Greek and Roman culture influenced, Herodians, Hasideans, followers of John the Baptist, and those Jews who followed Jesus and believed he was the Messiah and Son of God.

Belief in salvation by a messiah at the end time was an acceptable concept among Jews. It would be possible to affirm belief in Jesus as savior and still be part of the first-century Jewish community; this community would not have rejected belief in a messiah but did not necessarily believe in this particular messiah. Thus, the family from Bethany—Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, as described in John 11—could comfortably live within the Jewish community and still profess faith in Jesus as Christ and Son of God.

Tonight may be the last time you will hear this Passion Gospel in the Good Friday service. The Episcopal Church has long grappled with liturgies, doctrine, and Scripture that have at times fueled hatred against Jewish people[1] . This year’s General Convention in Baltimore will again consider a change in the Lectionary. Bishop Goff has already authorized the use of Luke’s Passion because of this Gospel’s perceived overt antisemitic tone. While I didn’t change the Gospel for this year’s Solemn Liturgy, it may be appropriate to do so in the future.

Intellectually, we know that John’s language about the Jews has historical and theological reasons. First, John wrote at a time when the Jewish followers of Jesus were carving out an identity separate from their parent Jewish community.

Yet we cannot erase the centuries of ugly persecution of our Jewish neighbors that have resulted from the “us and them” separation created by John’s text. This text has more than once been used to not only justify discrimination against Jewish people but also to justify killing and torture, most consequentially during the Holocaust. Yet, it is believed that hate crimes increase against Jewish people each year when this Scripture is read during Holy Week.

Thus, we are left with the beauty, pain, and polemic of John’s Gospel. For a moment, politics and history fall away, and we are left with the poetry of the Passion according to John. We stand at the foot of the cross. Peter and the disciples are confused and terrified. The three Marys are heartbroken. One of the most human and moving moments in the Passion is the passage where Jesus gives his mother into the care of the Beloved Disciple. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus overcome their doubts and fears enough to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body. We have reached the time and place when the body is in the tomb. A time of darkness. A time when death seems to have triumphed. A time when it is challenging to have faith.

John tells us that Jesus knew all that would happen to him. The hearers of the tale in John’s community knew. We know what is going to happen. This story is headed towards hope, overcoming death, and the certainty of the Resurrection. Yet over and over again, our hearts break for the disciples, Jesus’ mother, and all who loved him.

On the night before he died, Jesus spoke of how his followers are to live when he is gone. We are to live in faith that we will see him again. We are to learn from and be comforted by the Holy Spirit. We are to love one another as he has loved us. We are to live in unity with God and with one another.

What we can take from John’s Passion, even while we acknowledge its antisemitic tone, is this:

Jesus Christ understands us completely, not only because he is divine and knows all things, but because he is human and has experienced all things. He suffered physically, emotionally, and spiritually during his passion and death. Nevertheless, he has gone through darkness and will come to the light.

In the final and darkest days, we are invited to trust the one who has entered the heart of darkness and knows the way through. The only question for us now is whether we will follow.

Let us pray: Gracious God, may we love each other as Christ loved us. May we gather in community, in our times of grief and despair as in times of gladness. May we turn toward the day when weeping and mourning will turn to joy by the power of the Holy Spirit. In Christ’s name, we pray.

Amen.

[1] https://www.episcopalnewsservice.org/2021/03/29/church-faces-renewed-pressure-to-change-good-friday-liturgy-that-risks-fueling-anti-jewish-hatred/ Accessed April 15, 2022.