Category Archives: Holy Week

The Seven Words from the Cross

Seven Words: A Good Friday Meditation

The Seven Last Words are the seven last sentences, or phrases, or sayings, uttered by Jesus as he hung on the cross on Good Friday, at least as recorded in the Gospels.

 

The First Word
Luke 23.26, 32-34

The soldiers led Jesus away, and as they were going, they met a man from Cyrene named Simon who was coming into the city from the country. They seized him, put the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.… Two other men, both of them criminals, were also led out to be put to death with Jesus. When they came to the place called ‘The Skull’, they crucified Jesus there, and the two criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Forgive them, Father! They don’t know what they are doing.’

Hannah Arendt was a Jew who left Nazi Germany for the USA in 1933. She once wrote:

Forgiveness is the only way to reverse the irreversible flow of history.

Jesus reversed history by forgiving his torturers. Jesus has given the world a second chance. He said

Father, forgive them;
for they do not know what they are doing.

People who hung on a cross were not meant to ask forgiveness for those who were killing them; they were jeered and sledged mercilessly, and they were expected to return jeer for jeer, sledge for sledge, until exhaustion took its toll. It was all part of the sport.

But Jesus forgave, and history can and one day will be reversed.

Teach us how to forgive, Lord. Teach the nations how to forgive, instead of seeking an eye for an eye. Amen.

 

The Second Word
Luke 23.29–43

One of the criminals hanging there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’

The other one, however, rebuked him, saying, ‘Don’t you fear God? You received the same sentence he did. Ours, however, is only right, because we are getting what we deserve for what we did; but he has done no wrong.’ And he said to Jesus, ‘Remember me, Jesus, when you come as King!’

Jesus said to him, ‘I promise you that today you will be in Paradise with me.’

Truly I tell you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.

Tradition gave the penitent thief a name, did you know that? He is called ‘Dismas’. He said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’.

Dismas is a great example of faith to us: Jesus was enthroned all right, but his ‘throne’ was a cross, the place of degradation and shame. This was his only kingdom.

Can I see what Dismas saw? Can I see signs of Jesus’ kingdom as I look around the world today?

How is it coming? Does it really come as the hungry are fed and the homeless are sheltered? Or is that wishful thinking?

Lord, I believe—help my unbelief. Forgive me, Lord, and increase my faith. Amen.

 

The Third Word
John 19.25–27

Standing close to Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there; so he said to his mother, ‘He is your son.’

Then he said to the disciple, ‘She is your mother.’ From that time the disciple took her to live in his home.

Woman, here is your son.

Things weren’t always smooth between Jesus and his mother. In the Gospel According to Mark, there is a time when his mother and the family come to take Jesus away, because he was obviously mad. That day, Jesus asks a question:

Who are my mother and my brothers?

He looks at those who are gathered around him and says

Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.

Friends, Jesus names us, you and me, as his sisters and brothers. He has created a new community, a whole new family through his love poured out for us.

Can we enter into these new friendships, these new kinship networks, that are created by his Spirit among us?

Can we love one another, as he has loved us?

 

The Fourth Word
Mark 15.33-34

At noon the whole country was covered with darkness, which lasted for three hours. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud shout, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why did you abandon me?’

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

William Willimon, a Methodist from the USA, reminds those of us who believe that

God the Father did not save God the Son from the cross or rescue him from this agony. — Thank God it’s Friday

God the Father did not save our Lord Jesus from Calvary, but the Father was there with our Lord throughout that whole ordeal.

1700 years ago, Cyril of Jerusalem reminded us that it was right here Jesus that truly took our place on the cross. We know what it means to be separated from God, through sin or disobedience, though despair or unbelief, through grief and loss, through serious illness and as we face death.

We are separated from God; Christ knew that separation in order to be one with us.

Yet God was still there with him on the cross. My God—for you are still my God—why have you forsaken me?

As he cries out, Christ is for ever with us who are lost, so that we may find our way home.

 

The Fifth Word
John 19.28-29

Jesus knew that by now everything had been completed; and in order to make the scripture come true, he said, ‘I am thirsty.’

I am thirsty.

Did Jesus get thirsty? Sometimes, we are strangely surprised when we realise that of course, the answer to this question is Yes.

Jesus calls out, I thirst.

Jesus calls out to us today, I thirst—where people have to walk miles to fetch water; or in places like Flint, Michigan where their drinking water is contaminated by lead.

Jesus calls out to us today, I hunger—where drought or blight causes people to face famine.

Jesus calls out to us today, I am homeless—yes, on the streets of Brisbane.

Jesus, you thirst today. Give us hearts to quench your thirst. Amen.

 

The Sixth Word
John 19.29–30

A bowl was there, full of cheap wine; so a sponge was soaked in the wine, put on a stalk of hyssop, and lifted up to his lips. Jesus drank the wine and said, ‘It is finished!’

It is finished.

Lord, we are grateful that you didn’t say, ‘I am finished.’

Your work was finished. You accomplished the mission the Father had given you in your life and your death.

You now hand it on to us. You said we would do greater things; help us to trust you and your Spirit amongst us.

Lord, strengthen us. Keep us faithful to you. Amen.

 

The Seventh Word
Luke 23.44-49

It was about twelve o’clock when the sun stopped shining and darkness covered the whole country until three o’clock; and the curtain hanging in the Temple was torn in two. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Father! In your hands I place my spirit!’ He said this and died.

Father, into your hands
I commend my spirit.

Lord Jesus, once you said,

Blessed are the pure in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of God.

And Psalm 51 says,

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.

And also

The sacrifice acceptable to God
is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God,
you will not despise.

Deliver us from the ego-prison of our self-righteous spirits. Give us each one a renewed spirit, one we too may commend to your God and our God, to your Father and our Father. Amen.

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Which Procession?

Readings
Psalm 118.1–2, 19–29
Mark 11.1–11

Some understand what is right; others understand what will sell.
Confucius

  • Our narrator is Zack, a merchant who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing; not a believer in Jesus.
  • There is some conjecture in this sermon. Did Jesus and Pilate enter on the same day? It dramatically heightens the tension if so. But even if not, they entered within a few days of each other and the stage was set for the collision of Good Friday.

Good morning! My name is Zack. I’m in business here in Jerusalem. I import spices and perfumes like frankincense and nard from the east, and ceramics and jewellery from the west. Business is very good indeed—and it’s all because of the Romans. They’ve built straight roads, good roads, easy to travel roads, roads that make it quick and safe to transport my goods. And no one but no one gets in their way.

The other day my cousin Reuben suggested we take the morning off to see the procession, and I thought, Why not? Reuben lives out in Bethany; I don’t see him that often, and I’d just taken a shipment of spices. Nothing was coming in for a few days.

I wasn’t sure why Reuben wanted to see the procession though; he’s not like me, he doesn’t see why we need the Romans here. He actually wants to get rid of them by force! How can he and his friends do that, I wonder—a few ruffians with daggers, the odd soldier bumped off, and what happens then? The Romans make sure that even more people die on crosses!

And sometimes the wrong ones are crucified. My old friend Caleb was arrested and crucified last year for insurrection. But the poor man was innocent! I do what I can for his widow and kids. They won’t starve. Reuben told me it was ‘collateral damage’.

Anyway, as I was saying, I wasn’t sure why Reuben wanted to go to the procession. I asked him if he was going to make any trouble, and he looked at me as though I was mad. That’s not like Reuben, I thought. Maybe he’s got some sense at last.

So I went to the western gate of the city and waited. At first I thought Reuben was just late, but he never showed.

The procession was really majestic and so intimidating! Pilate looked splendid, so splendid he could have been Caesar himself! And the soldiers in their leather armour and the clatter of their swords and the stamp! stamp! stamp! of their feet! And the horses, and the battle standards, and…I looked all over. No Reuben.

Turns out he was over on the east side of the city, at Jesus’ procession. It was that procession he was inviting me to! I didn’t even know about it.

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Pilate tweets Holy Week

I came across this the other day. It’s delightfully hilarious!:

Pilate tweets

Read the rest here.

 

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How great the pain of searing loss

Readings
Hebrews 12.1–3
John 13.21–32

Here hangs a man discarded,
a scarecrow hoisted high,
a nonsense pointing nowhere
to all who hurry by.
(Brian Wren)

Last night, we heard that when Jesus was on the cross, he cried out (Luke 23.34),

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.

We saw that here, the Son is addressing the Father. And that the Holy Spirit is holding them together.

Tonight, we want to hear something else that Jesus uttered from the cross. He cried out in the opening words of Psalm 22:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Perhaps you know that feeling.

When I was younger, I was taught that this was the point at which God turn his back on Jesus as Jesus ‘became sin’ for us, as Jesus ‘paid the penalty’ for sin. God could not look on sin, so he turned away from Jesus.

One of the proof tests for this idea comes from the book of the prophet Habakkuk. In 1.13a, we read

Your eyes are too pure to behold evil,
and you cannot look on wrongdoing;

That seems to settle it. God cannot look upon sin, so God turns away from Jesus on the cross.

But we need to read the second half of that verse:

[so] why do you look on the treacherous,
and are silent when the wicked swallow
those more righteous than they?

Habakkuk is confused by this. He thinks that God cannot look upon evil; but he sees that God does look upon evil.

I feel equally confused when people talk about God turning away from Jesus on the cross. You see, I don’t believe God did turn away from Jesus.

The only way I can get any handle on all this is to look at these words as spoken to God the Father by the eternal Son made flesh. Just as ‘Father, forgive them’ is a conversation between Father and Son, so is ‘Why have you forsaken me?’

When Jesus asks ‘Why have you forsaken me?’, we are still dealing with the Father and Son, held together by the Spirit.

God was not far away from Christ that day, nor having an afternoon catching up with his emails in the office. God was in Christ. According to 2 Corinthians 5.19, ‘God was making the whole human race his friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of their sins…’

Or in perhaps more familiar language, ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.’

You may know this song: How deep the Father’s love for us. It starts like this:

How deep the Father’s love for us,
how vast beyond all measure,
that he should give his only Son
to make a wretch his treasure.

And then we go on to sing these words:

How great the pain of searing loss:
the Father turns his face away.
as wounds which mar the Chosen One
bring many sons to glory.

Let’s just leave for another day the exclusive language that uses ‘sons’ to include ‘everyone’. We won’t go there tonight—it’s important, but it’s not the time right now.

But let’s look at the words.

How great the pain of searing loss:

This is the very heart of the Cross. ‘The pain of searing loss’ is such a moving way to describe the godforsaken cry of Jesus.

Yet the Father also shares the pain of searing loss with the Son.

In that cry, not only is the Son fatherless; but the Father is also sonless. The Father freely enters into the pain of the Son. [Note 1]

If the Father and the Son were truly separated at that point, we could ask Does the Trinity then fall apart? [Note 2] No, because the Spirit binds Father and Son as one in a grief-stricken embrace.

Next, we sing

the Father turns his face away

As I said, I don’t believe the Father’s face is turned away at all; but if it were, it would be turned away in heartbroken grief.

It doesn’t help me to say the Father turns away because the sin of the world is placed on Jesus. For heaven’s sake (literally!), the Son has been spending his life embracing sinners. If God is Trinity, then the Father has also been embracing them with the Son. The Father also embraces us with the Son. The Father is the one who looks out every day for the prodigal to return. The Father does not keep account of sins.

The song goes on,

as wounds which mar the Chosen One
bring many ‘sons’ to glory.

Do those wounds ‘mar’ Jesus? Do they make him ugly to the Father? No! If you see your child injured, you run towards them and not away from them. Your child is beautiful to you no matter what happens.

The scars do not ‘mar’ the chosen one; Jesus bore them in his risen body. He took the scars with him as he ascended into heaven.

The wounds may make Jesus ugly to us, but not to the Father.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Because Jesus uttered these words, they have become words of hope for us who are adopted as children of the Father. The triune God will never forsake us: the Spirit binds us firmly to the Father; the Son has accomplished it all for us.

Let us move into the Great Three Days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter itself with confidence and joy!

For the Wednesday of Holy Week, 2017

__________________________________

Note 1: ‘To understand what happened between Jesus and his God and Father on the cross, it is necessary to talk in trinitarian terms. The Son suffers dying, the Father suffers the death of the Son. The grief of the Father here is just as important as the death of the Son. The Fatherlessness of the Son is matched by the Sonlessness of the Father, and if God has constituted himself as the Father of Jesus Christ, then he also suffers the death of his Fatherhood in the death of the Son.’ (Juergen Moltmann, The Crucified God)

Note 2: This is almost an inevitable question. It also blunders by exceeding the bounds of human language about God, and is guilty of hubris.

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In the cross of Christ I glory

rafittiReading
1 Corinthians 1.18–31

In the cross of Christ I glory,
towering o’er the wrecks of time;
all the light of sacred story
gathers round its head sublime.

A piece of graffiti now in the Palatine Hill Museum in Rome may be the earliest picture we have of Jesus on the cross, dating back to sometime shortly after AD 200. It is bitterly sarcastic. Jesus has the head of a donkey; Alexamenos was considered a fool. The graffiti says

Alexamenos worships his God

Alexamenos worships his God.

It’s clear that Alexamenos was considered a fool. It’s also clear that Jesus was an ass.

The early Christians had a problem. Anyone who was crucified was absolutely cursed by God, the refuse of the Empire, fit only for insult, scorn, and ridicule.

Why worship such a creature?

The cross still causes offence. There are churches that have taken the cross out of the worship space so that people aren’t confronted by it.

It’s a symbol of death.

Recently, in a general article on pedophilia, the image above the headline was a cross. The article wasn’t just about the churches; but the cross stood for pedophile abuse.

Paul said the cross is ‘a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles’; it is foolish today.

When Jesus was on the cross, he cried out (Luke 23.34),

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.

It is utterly foolish for a crucified man to forgive anyone. He is in a position of no earthly power or authority. In fact, anyone who was crucified was considered the absolute and utter dregs of humanity. Who would want such a person’s forgiveness?

But wait just a moment. Note who is being addressed: the Father. And who is speaking: the Son. And who is holding them together: the Holy Spirit.

We have here a glimpse into the life of God the Holy Trinity.

Often, people think of God punishing sin and hurling thunderbolts at evildoers. If God were like that, this would be the place above all others that God would shower us with those thunderbolts.

But the triune God determines to forgive humanity in its sin and rebellion.

Surely, that is an eternal wonder.

And God still holds out that forgiveness to all.

God calls us to continue that work, being people of forgiveness, acceptance, and compassion to everyone we meet.

Foolishness?

I think not.

For the Tuesday of Holy Week, 2017

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My song is love unknown

Reading
John 12.1–11

My song is love unknown,
my Saviour’s love to me,
love to the loveless shown,
that they might lovely be.
O who am I
that for my sake
my Lord should take
frail flesh, and die?

When Jesus speaks to Mary’s sister Martha in John chapter 11, he says

I am the resurrection and the life.

Now, Mary is preparing ’the Resurrection and the Life’ for his death.

Without a doubt, Mary of Bethany is one of the most interesting characters in the whole Bible. She only gets three mentions: once in Luke’s Gospel, twice in John’s. Each time, she appears with her sister, Martha. Each time, she is found at the feet of Jesus. Each time, she touches Jesus deeply.

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